Published on 2012/12/20

Fostering Lifelong Learning in the Workforce

A blended workforce may well be the answer to the United States’ current shortfall in skilled, STEM workers.

To land and retain employment in this economy, basic competencies are no longer enough. To win a promotion or stand out among 20+ other candidates, experts tell us there are five must-have skills:

  1. Communicate your ideas and passions clearly
  2. Develop your own personal brand of who you are
  3. Maintain flexibility in your views and work without compromising your values
  4. Focus on productivity – it keeps all stakeholders happy
  5. Be inclusive, because you will always have diversity of culture, generations and gender

These are particular competencies recruiters and employers look for before hiring; they want you to be someone who they can quickly engage in on-boarding agendas. The employer’s goal is to bring you up to measurable productivity and performance as quickly as possible.  They then monitor your progress with performance measurements, along with your peer working relationships, in an attempt to define their own view of your career path with that firm. There are a growing number of HR and management software tools specifically designed to measure an employee’s performance.

As such, it behooves both you and your employer to foster a positive attitude and environment for learning—formal, informal, and experiential. Once you arrive at an agreed-upon learning needs assessment, make sure your employer understands the type of flexibility, tools, and assistance you require in exchange for your efforts to meet the performance goals desired from you. This should be a frank but not confrontational discussion.

Unfortunately, with a decade of technology automation advancements and outsourcing, candidates with these required skills and capabilities are in short supply. While populations will increase, and demand for certain occupations will continue to increase, the number of Science, Technology, Electronics and Math (STEM) candidates with the skills and experience required continues to shrink. Baby Boomers continue to leave the workforce at an accelerated pace (up to 10,000 per day), taking long-held skills and experience with them.

The recent global survey released by McKinsey Global Institute indicates a potential shortfall of 38 to 40 million college-educated workers by 2020. That’s only seven years (or 84 months) away. Yet our unemployment rate remains relatively unchanged from June 2012 because we do not have enough STEM qualified candidates in the workforce ranks.

Many question how we will respond to this educational crisis with our global economy about to trend downward again. The U.S. economy is on the edge of a fiscal cliff due to impending changes in government spending, and a very slow housing market recovery.

Some believe the answer to this educational crisis is to adopt a blended workforce model. In this model, an organization would keep a very minimal “brain trust” in-house, and outsource the balance of work to be performed. This would mean a better method of resource planning and total workforces spending (all labor and associated costs, not just employees) from dynamic data that provides predictive modeling. This would allow for informed decisions to bring in specialist or independent contractors as needed—as has long been the process in much of oil development and filmmaking. In short, it would mean more jobs, not less, though more jobs would be specialized and flexible using project management with 1099 or contract payment methods.

Many generalists with Liberal Arts degrees may have to fit into this role of outsourced worker. The U.K. and Europe have long adopted a similar role they call contingent workforce. Contingent may not necessarily mean it will lead to a full-time job, but it is income. Some studies show that many prefer the “project-by-project” role, since it can easily be adapted to be borderless, with current technology. This has been true with energy exploration experts, in the movie industry, and in some forms of franchising. Contingent workers are essentially stop gaps with people who can do the job, but may need additional skills development or on-the-job training to fulfill the assignment when the available talent in the labor market has insufficient skills development to keep pace with population and market needs.

No matter how the workforce is designed and put together by an employer, it will surely change sooner or later to adapt to the market and business.

Whether you are specialist seeking independent contract work, or one of the core competencies employees, the requirement of fostering lifelong learning is the same. Only the subject matter changes.

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Readers Comments

Peter Laramie 2012/12/20 at 10:35 am

Folks in the job market better act fast to adapt to this change, because I think the blended workforce model is the future; already, companies’ use of consultants/contractors/free-agents is on the rise, and has been for the past few years.

As Mr. Hammer rightly points out, candidates need not only soft skills, they need to develop expertise in a field so that they can fill these specific contingent roles for a variety of organizations. I think continuing ed goes hand in hand with this model; people are most likely going to head back to school in droves to get the training and expertise they need to succeed in this flexible and quasi-virtual workplace.

Chuck Schwartz 2012/12/20 at 1:22 pm

In light of the slow economy and changes in the job market, the blended workforce model just makes sense. It allows employers to avoid the issue of having to hire and then terminate contracts with employees brought on for specific projects or tasks.

With outsourced teams connected by a network and facilitated by the “barebones” staff, the livelihood of all these would-be hired and fired employees is vastly improved; they are instead encouraged to develop expertise and consult across a range of businesses, making their living in a much more flexible, dynamic, and ultimately, a more secure way (providing the shift to blended model was widespread).

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