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My Learning Mantra

My Learning Mantra
Like a bee to pollen, an employee should be attracted to learning in order to grow personally and professionally. Photo by Simmy Ahluwalia.

My earlier post talked about my arrival in Canada and learning to get Canadian educational credentials and job experience. Picking up from where I left off, when I was working in the private sector as Director of Finance in the early 1990s, I became a statistic of the economic downturn. Within 3 months of being laid off my job, I joined the federal public service as a financial analyst…and effectively started my career all over again.

In my new role, I had to learn about finance in the public service because it so different than the private sector — more accountability, policy and rules-based. I took a course on financial management in the federal public service, backed and supported by the government.

I didn’t just rely on the course, though. I consolidated the learning by applying it in my day-to-day work and also continuous on-the-job learning. I took personal initiative to learn more about the policies and procedures of the federal public service. Overall, I felt I needed a stronger footing to advance further. By applying knowledge from my private sector experience and formal CMA designation, combined with government-supported CE and personal learning, I could perform better and meet or exceed the expectations of my employer.

I continued to grow by challenging myself personally—pursuing job opportunities outside my comfort zone to give myself a wider range of experiences and knowledge. This variety of experiences meant I could operate effectively with different teams because of my newfound ability to bring different perspectives together and look at the bigger picture.

Early in my career, in one of the self-help books I had read that you are in charge of your own career management. You must know where you want to go and constantly conduct self-assessments of your strengths and weaknesses—and act on them.

In analyzing my gaps, I realized that in order to reach a management position within the federal government, I had to achieve a level of fluency in French, a language I hadn’t touched since high school 15 years earlier.

Thanks to the government’s policies supporting employee learning, I enrolled in full-time French language training. My employer backed me through eight months of training to build on my high-school level French. I didn’t just limit my learning to these classes; I immersed myself in the language and the culture. I read French novels, watched French TV at home and listed to Radio-Canada (the French-language CBC radio) on my way to and from work every day.

It worked wonders! I gained near-fluency in written and conversational French. My reading comprehension was so strong that within three months I gained an exemption, which means I never have to get tested for it again! I guess reading Angels and Demons in French was a good idea after all!

After returning to my job with confidence in my language abilities, I was successful in getting promoted within a few months to a leadership position. I actively worked to maintain and improve my language skills—five years later, I was successful when retested for the French levels.

In keeping with my continuous improvement, I recently completed a leadership program, again supported by the federal government, to enhance the competencies expected of high-level executives. Teamed up with other managers from different departments across the federal public service, it gave me an opportunity to further broaden my perspective. My formal learning was complemented by sharing of best practises and experiences with senior executives and industry leaders from private and public sector organizations from across the country. Additionally, I have built a network with my peers to support me as I move through my career.

I believe that employer-supported training is important, but if you want something badly it’s not enough. It’s up to us as learners—employees—to know what we want and to make it happen. If the employer does not support the learning and it is important for your career, you need to take up on your own through continuing education or any other learning opportunities.  And you know what—it’s not enough to go to classes every day, you need to put your learning to practise.

Ask yourself what needs to be improved? What competencies do you need to get where you need to go? What programs are available within your own organization (or outside, at local colleges/universities for example) to get the skills you need?

Know what you want, keep an open mind for learning and succeed on your own terms—no one else is going to do it for you. This mantra is working for me!

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