“Never has there been a time where so many changes are happening so quickly, and it is really hard for companies and employees to adapt,” said Kelly Palmer, co-author of the “The Expertise Economy: How the Smartest Companies Use Learning to Engage, Compete and Succeed.”
Palmer is chief learning officer at Degreed, an education technology company, and the former chief learning officer for LinkedIn and former vice president of learning at Yahoo. She is also a well-known thought leader on the future of learning and career development. Chief Learning Officer recently spoke with Palmer about how companies and employees can succeed in the fast-changing workplace.
This transcript has been edited for space and clarity.
CLO: What motivated you to write “The Expertise Economy”?
Palmer: There is a paradigm shift happening in the world of work and learning and it has to do with three major things: acceleration, automation and digitization. The rate of change is happening faster than it’s ever been in our history. Automation and digitization, technology and artificial intelligence are forcing us to think about work in different ways.
CLO: What do you view as the most effective way to learn?
Palmer: I realized there’s a lot that people were doing in corporate learning that is antiquated and not very effective. The model of putting employees in a classroom and trying to teach through lecture-based training, and then hoping they would apply what they learned on the job is one of the things I realized is broken. People learn best in the flow of work when they care about something. It doesn’t really matter what modality or type of learning people learn from.
CLO: With machine-learning and artificial intelligence, how do problem-solving, critical thinking and emotional intelligence play a role in jobs?
Palmer: We need to think about how we will evolve as humans to work with technology and AI. We are already seeing automation, robots and technology doing certain things that humans used to do. The question is: What is our place in that model? Those three important skills — problem-solving, critical thinking and emotional intelligence — are unique to humans. We can continue to add value by using those types of human skills as we work side by side with AI and technology. Another skill that is important to focus on is learning agility — the ability to continuously learn new skills. People who can keep up and build new skills quickly will be in high demand in the workforce.
CLO: Can you discuss the four examples of learning cultures: compliance training, necessary training, culture of learning and continuous learning?
Palmer: All companies are in a maturity model in terms of where they are with their culture of learning. Companies start out having compliance training because it’s required. They might do some compliance training around safety issues or harassment, which is not really helping people build new skills, but it is something that companies start with. Necessary training is about helping people build job-specific skills around tools and processes within the company. It may help employees build new skills, but it is still for specific tools and processes. Culture of learning goes beyond that compliance and necessary training and there is some initiative that might be working and helping people build specific skills. Companies should want to be in a culture of continuous learning where people are learning all the time. People might spend 15 minutes watching a video or reading an article or listening to a podcast to help them do their job better. Cultures that value continuous learning and that encourage the employees to be learning every day are not only good for the employees, but great for the success of the company.
CLO: Can you discuss the language of skills, specifically on reskilling and upskilling at the workplace?
The last couple of decades, companies have been focusing narrowly on specific learning programs or online learning modules or tracking compliance training. Business leaders and CEOs were just shown a list of courses that employees completed. The participation metric is not useful. It doesn’t tell you about what people have learned or what they can do, what skills they are building or what skills they have.
Sixty-four percent of CEOs feel they must upskill or reskill 25 percent of their workforce over the next five years for their companies to stay relevant. What skills does the company need to be successful? What skills does an organization have and need to be successful? What skills do employees need to stay relevant in the workforce? Understanding what skills people have and what they need is a conversation that is imperative to CEOs and business leaders. We can use data and analytics to understand what skills people have and need and realize what people are learning in a variety of ways throughout their careers. A conversation tying that to what skills they are building for jobs and careers is critical to companies, business leaders’, employees and organizations.
CLO: What should universities and companies do to help skill the workforce?
One of the problems is that students will spend four years studying at a university and yet, when they get into the job, most employers are finding that they don’t have the skillset to do the job that they hired them for. Universities are not preparing them for a specific job in most cases, but rather, giving them a foundation for learning and building skills. Companies, as a result, take more of the burden of helping employees get the skills they need to be effective on the job. Universities can partner with companies to help individuals get the skills they need to be successful on the job. It has to be a combination of universities, companies and individuals all working together.
If universities stay connected with their students and find out what jobs and skills are needed as they move through their careers, that can help them stay connected to the ongoing skills needed in the workforce. Companies could also take the lead in teaching an industry about emerging technologies. Additionally, universities can partner with companies to understand what technological advances are new in the work world since it’s difficult for universities to keep up with the latest technology. As companies start to use emerging technologies, new programming languages and AI, they can then partner with universities to collaborate on helping people build the skills they need. That can be a great partnership moving forward.