Learning How To Learn

There was a recent post highlighted on GovLoop entitled “You’re So Dumb!”: The Next Generation” by Bill Brantley, which focuses on the ongoing generational demise as told by our forefathers (at any given time), and the continued lament that the knowledge and skills of which we are so proud are not being retained by the youth following us. Every generation has felt that the younger one is lazy or uninterested, disrespectful and blasphemous.

The Millenial generation, which is currently emerging in our workplaces, is no different. They are tagged as oblivious, flighty and self-indulgent. I disagree. I believe this generation, like every one before, is reinventing the worker and the workplace and bringing the demands of its social priorities into the realm of necessity – not because its members are lazy, selfish or egotistical, but because they have grown up with a focus on, and comfort with communities and personal interaction.

Gone are the days where a child sits quietly with hands folded, waiting to be spoken to. Nor are we likely to see kids hesitant to express themselves or show their emotions. This generation has resulted from the adjustments our own has made as we try to accomodate the learnings we had as children. The cycle perpetuates forever.

The point of the GovLoop article is to discuss knowledge transfer and retention. Once again we come to realise that knowledge management and retention is achieved largely through soft skills and healthy human relationships as opposed to rigid process and technologies (which, for the record, do help but don’t get us all the way there). I believe that on the part of the Millenials, there is a willingess to consider and learn existing skills and processes for the sake of constructive evaluation, but this is a generation that is not afraid to change and make change. However, it does leave this younger group at risk of bypassing the evaluation process entirely in favour of leaping to the change.

We can do our Millenials and future generations a great service by focusing efforts on the type of education they receive to arm them with the practical and human skills that will allow  them to traverse the culture of the generation before them, extract knowledge and value from this generation’s experience, and apply their own brand of efficiency or quality improvements. They need to learn how to learn.

I don’t worry so much about the curriculum that my son and daughter will absorb over the years that they will be in public education. I am more concerned that my children learn how to communicate, to relate to others, to listen and speak with passion and focus. My kids will grow up knowing how to connect to others that might know facts or fiction to help them along, and this will help them when they ultimately become contributing members of our workforce.

The newer generation of workers will likely reinvent themselves over and over again at an increasingly rapid pace. They will become more focused on their personal brands than on the brands of their organisation. If our employers want to retain workers that are productive and high-performing, they need to be able to appeal to individual interests, desires, demands, needs and ambitions. Human resource professionals will be managing a handful of individuals rather than an army of classified, categorised, faceless numbers. They will need to figure out how  to valuate a personal brand and attract workers that are driven by more than money or benefits.

Who is responsible, though, for protecting and perpetuating the knowledge that resides in the hearts and minds of the vastly retiring workforce? I argue it’s the upcoming generation of workers. They need to have exceptional skills to extract and recognise the value of what their senior peers pass down, but also how to keep abreast of upcoming trends, tools and policies that will affect how they evolve their craft.

Can we teach these skills or do they come ingrained? Should standard curriculum take a back seat to foundational life skills, or social capabilities?

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