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The Importance of Continuous Learning and Development

Generation Z remains the most keen on pursuing learning and development (L&D) opportunities at work. As LinkedIn's 2023 Workplace Learning Report indicates, young workers (ages 18-34) crave the most resources for career growth, learning and skill building in comparison to older generations. 

This is great news, because continuous learning is an important part of staying relevant, enhancing your life and enriching your career. Consider the following tips for L&D provided by HR experts and influential leaders in the field.

Continuous L&D for Generation Z

"What you are studying now is certainly important to you. But things change in life, as they did for me, when the recession hit in 2008 and there were no recruiting needs," said Janice Litvin, professional speaker and author. To stress the importance of continuous L&D, Litvin described how "many people do not do the exact same job throughout their entire career" and how "you become stale in your work if you do not grow and change." Litvin, a professional speaker and the author of Banish Burnout Toolkit, explained how continuous L&D revolves around constant change, "so being open to various avenues makes you more resilient to changes in the market" and more prepared for continuous growth and success in your career. 

Amy Wallace, vice president of learning and development at Members 1st Federal Credit Union in Enola, Pennsylvania, said how "complacency is a dangerous space in which to operate" because "it's our obligation to ourselves, our organization and our customers to continue growing and challenging our thinking."

Therefore, in order for professionals to position themselves as "competitive and relevant in the workforce, it is necessary for professionals to stay up-to-date with the latest trends and developments in their industry and field," according to Tameka Lockhart-Spann, learning and people operations manager at Nonprofit HR in Washington D.C. 

However, "learning is also personally rewarding," Wallace said. Learning invokes intrinsic motivation, she said, so learning and growth present both immediate and overall benefits throughout the entirety of emerging professionals' careers. 

Immediate Benefits  

Lockhart-Spann described the immediate benefits of L&D opportunities as "increased job security, heightened confidence, and professional and personal growth," which result in "higher job satisfaction and improved performance" for emerging professionals. 

"Increased knowledge through L&D can lead to increased responsibility, which usually comes with a higher salary," Lockhart-Spann said. "For many, a higher salary is motivation, which may provide greater job satisfaction." By pursuing L&D opportunities, employees "can work more efficiently and effectively, which can lead to improved performance."

Lasting Benefits 

Lockhart-Spann said pursuing continuous L&D "can help emerging professionals build a strong professional network and establish themselves as thought leaders in their field" and will help prepare them for new opportunities at the next level with valuable, lifelong connections by their side.

Litvin said it's important for emerging professionals to remember that "continuous learning can move your career in directions you can't even envision for yourself. You never know where a new opportunity may lead you. My own career is a perfect example," she said.

"For example, after years of doing software development and then software support, my boss, Frank, offered me the option of taking on software training as a new skill and duty. Frank had the intuition to see that my personality would be a fit as a trainer long before I did. I may never have become a trainer and, now, a professional speaker had I not been open to new opportunities."

Tips for Continuous L&D

"In the world of work, if you do not grow and change, you will get left behind," Litvin said. Continuous L&D helps you stay competitive, advance in your career and achieve long-term professional goals. These tips can help you as you strive to continually learn and grow as a professional.  

Utilize Your L&D Department

"My first recommendation is to explore the landscape within your current organization," Wallace said, encouraging emerging professionals to analyze the accessible resources offered by their L&D departments.

In exploring the internal landscape, even "conversations with your manager, creating action plans, sharing your goals to seek feedback from those around you, and embracing an attitude of always focusing on growing your knowledge and skill set" are examples of continuously learning and developing on the job. 

Seek Out Mentors 

According to Litvin, "seeking a coach or mentor or at least an accountability partner," as provided by an employee resource group (ERG), is one potential route for developing and honing new skills.

"Locating a mentor is another important component of growth and development," Wallace said. "A mentor is someone who can help hold you accountable to your goals, help offer perspective and challenge you to think differently. Often, a mentor can see things in you that you don't see about yourself—good and bad."  

"Becoming involved with an ERG or other cross-departmental employee groups and activities exposes you to new people and managers," Litvin said. "From there, you volunteer to take on a leadership role and ask a mentor to guide you through the process."

Volunteer for Cross-Functional Projects 

For another internal resource, Lockhart-Spann strongly recommended participating in cross-functional projects when given the chance, "because you get the chance to collaborate with colleagues from different departments of the organization and broaden your understanding of the business."

Explore External Avenues

Beyond the resources available within your organization, there are also many external opportunities for continuous L&D. Lockhart-Spann suggested attending industry conferences and events outside of your organization, "which provides you with the opportunity to network with peers, learn about new technologies and trends, and gain insights from industry experts and thought leaders."

Taking into consideration the possibilities that exist outside of work remains a sure method for staying current on trends and gaining a perspective on novel areas. From attending workshops to joining organizations, Lockhart-Spann stressed how "there are plenty of learning opportunities outside of work that may align with your personal interests and career goals." 

Expand Knowledge and Skills  

"Learning and keeping the mind fresh always mitigates stress, purely for the joy of learning, in addition to the career advancement it can provide," Litvin said. In addressing the need to stay current, the author suggested reading books and articles by business leaders on LinkedIn and taking online classes. 

Wallace explained how LinkedIn is the ideal platform for creating professional connections, attending free webinars and growing professionally through your connections' content. She said that you can connect to industry experts and thought leaders who will challenge and grow your critical thinking skills "by making a genuine and sincere introduction to people who you believe could bring value to your perspective." 

Lockhart-Spann added, "Reading books and articles to grow your knowledge around a given topic is a sure way to stay current on industry trends and gain new insights and perspectives in different areas."

Additional Formal Education

Additional coursework provides opportunities to ask the professor direct questions and engage in intelligent conversation, because "out of those conversations may come a new way of thinking or doing something," she said.

"Staying abreast of trends and changes that will impact work," Litvin said, "is the best way to stay in demand." Staying current "can come from taking classes at a local private college or state university continuing education program taught by instructors who are senior experts in their field," she said.

Professional Development Programs 

While trade and industry certifications exist for a wide range of disciplines, Lockhart-Spann also said that several professional associations offer programs for professional development, such as certifications, continuing education courses and leadership development programs.

These "are great ways to acquire skills that have been level-set by a governing body," Wallace said.   

For a successful career in HR, earning SHRM certification remains essential. For Wallace, earning SHRM certification substantiated the credibility of her skill sets "so that other professionals would know I was working from a common body of knowledge in my daily decisions for our organization." 


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