Learning To Learn, Unlearn, And Relearn

Duy Nguyen

There is an element of uncertainty when it comes to discussing issues around the future of employment in the workforce. The world is changing is a phrase that constantly gets reused year after year, generation after generation. And to quote the very famous words of Heraclitus: The only thing that is constant is change.”

Many issues and topics come up, such as how do we address the skills gap with a large generation of baby boomers retiring? Or conversely, what about all the people losing their jobs as a result of automation? Will there be a balance as the baby boomers retire and we automate their jobs? What about the ever-growing population of millennials entering the workforce? What jobs will they be doing, if not directly replacing the baby boomers?

With so many questions and issues, it is easy for the mind to boggle just thinking about it. And for good reason.

I was fortunate enough to attend a session with SAP’s chief learning officer, Jenny Dearborn, where we discussed some of these issues and topics. It got me thinking about what we need to do to stay relevant in our industries.

The relationship between learning and work must change

The old approach to learning and work consisted of three stages: Learn, Work, Retire.

You would get an education in a field or vocation, work in that same field for 30-odd years, then you would retire. During the industrial revolution, this worked well, as most jobs were related to manufacturing. Back then, information was finite, so we would learn what we needed to make a living and stick with it.

Old mentality : With time, I will continuously be promoted to larger roles and advance in salary throughout my career.

With the digital revolution in full swing, information is infinite, so we need a new approach to learning and work. Now the approach consists of multiple stages: Learn, work, learn, change, unlearn, relearn, work, learn, change, unlearn, relearn, work… And so on and so on until you retire.

In this day and age, people are also healthier and live longer. So this process will continue for a lot longer, and the retirement age will also increase.

New Mentality: I will move from gig to gig, learning new skills, gaining new knowledge, sometimes I will earn more, sometimes less, but my driving force is staying relevant and engaged as I gain experience.

The skills required to stay relevant will change as well. The skills required for the future workforce consist of things that are not easily automated. Critical thinking skills, complex problem solving, design thinking, creativity and innovation, emotional intelligence, and much more are just some of the new skills that the next generation of workers will need in order to stay relevant. After all, if you are only learning skills that a robot can eventually learn, then you are effectively just learning to be a robot and are at high risk of making yourself irrelevant.

We need to cultivate a culture where employees are encouraged to continually learn and develop themselves, not only to stay relevant but to also keep themselves engaged and to continually grow. It is also equally important that employers provide a platform that allows their employees to be able to do this and cultivate a culture internally that promotes continual learning.

Challenge yourself! I would encourage you to think about these points and where you fit, in life or in work, and where you need to change:

  • What is my true purpose?
  • Am I purpose-driven in my life and work?
  • What am I (are we) here (work, life) to do?
  • What can I do to be more relevant?
  • What new skills do I need to be even more impactful?
  • Is lifelong learning and development core to who I am?
  • If not, why not? What else can I do to prioritize learning in my life?

To conclude, I would like to share another quote:

“We don’t know what the world will be like in 10 years. The best focus for people is to make the transitions as effective and painless as possible as opposed to worrying about what the end point is.” – Michael Spence, Nobel Prize-winning economist

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Duy Nguyen

About Duy Nguyen

Duy Nguyen is focused on providing trends and insights on Millennial behaviour and the digital innovation of HR. He is an HCM Consultant at SAP SuccessFactors based in Sydney, Australia. As a member of the Solution Architecture and Advisory team, he works with the broader sales & services team, and customers, to provide insights on HR best practices and help organizations simplify human resources processes, support talent development, and maximize employee engagement to transform strategies into measurable business outcomes.