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Learning through economic slumps

In times of economic downswing training should be top priority. This is counter-intuitive for many businesses, however.  When the going gets tough our natural instinct is to batten down the hatches and go into ‘saving mode’.

Companies today are increasingly interested in people with an inherent desire to grow and develop both personally and professionally

But training and learning should always be viewed from a long-term perspective. For many people it has never more challenging to find and retain a good job: training and up-skilling can be insurance for your future, putting you in ‘pole position’ for that enviable top position. As a company, investing time and money on training during a downswing can prove a springboard to business success when the economy improves.

What sort of training and development should companies focus on?

For Charisse Drobis, Head of Career Management Services at Wits Business School (WBS), courses that advance skills in organisational design; leading and managing self and others within complexity; strategic thinking, planning and implementation; entrepreneurship and innovation; negotiation and deal making and sales (particularly courses with a focus on competitive intelligence, big data analytics and digital marketing and sales) are well worth the investment.

“The uptake in general management courses such as the MBA, the Postgraduate Diploma in Business Administration (PDBA) and the Management Advancement Programme (MAP) has always been high during times of economic downturn. Any course where you could gain advantage in the market place by updating or sharpening your critical thinking, problem solving and business management or leadership skills, or in acquiring new thinking or expertise in emerging fields, is a good idea,” says Drobis.

The rationale for training and upskilling goes deeper than simply adding a fancy acronym to your CV, however. Companies today are increasingly interested in people with an inherent desire to grow and develop both personally and professionally.

“Engaging in a learning programme leads to higher levels of confidence, personal empowerment and self-efficacy. The consequences of undergoing transformative learning experiences are far reaching, and often result in the innovation and turnaround of the environments from which students derive,” comments Drobis.

Ilka Dunne, Senior Learning Architect at Rand Merchant Bank, notes that there is significant psychological value in upskilling when the ‘tools are down’.

“Development training ensures that managers are able to keep things on an even keel, the manage stress and change when the environment is being tested. Also, employees need to feel engaged during trying times,” she says.  “We focus on staff acquiring new skills based on personal development plans to enable employees to transition to new roles when the market kicks up again.”

Continuous learning is also what millennials want in their jobs. That’s what gives us our competitive edge.

Learning is, in fact, becoming a recognised economic currency of itself. At Deloitte’s human resources department, the number one issue is “culture and employee development”, says Ursula Fear, director of HR practice for Deloitte.

“Traditional ways of learning aren’t useful anymore, so our role in HR has become far more an advisory than transactional, (that is, we pay you this amount for that skill).  Continuous learning is also what millennials want in their jobs. That’s what gives us our competitive edge,” says Fear.

The current wisdom is that no matter the state of the economy, continuous learning should be an integral part of life, not only for the sake of future marketability and keeping up with the rate of change in the workplace, but ultimately, for fulfillment on a personal level.

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