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How to “retrain” your workforce using self-directed learning

I recently read an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal titled, “Amazon to Spend Big to Retrain Employees.” The article focuses on a commitment Amazon has made to spend $700 million to retrain its people – about $1,200 per year per person.

The article sites two reasons for this initiative, 1) Amazon needs to retrain its workforce to be effective with new technologies, and 2) Amazon needs to invest in its people to ensure that people with highly prized skills stay with them.

The article emphasizes that this is not altruism but a solid business decision given significant labor shortages of key skilled personnel and the rapid changes to the workplace caused by newer technologies. A quote in the article says, “We are just going back to a time when companies invest in their own workforces.”

In my opinion, it’s long overdue for organizations to realize that investing in their people is a good business decision. At Cerebyte, we’ve found that investing in programs for developing employees’ attitudes and skills has a significant impact on a company’s future. It is amazing to me that after the cutbacks in employee investment beginning in 2008, companies are only now – more than a decade later – investing in their future.

There are several items in the article that are worth highlighting. In one paragraph, the author talks about the idea that some companies don’t want to invest in training their people, but will look to hire for the needed skills. I believe that this is a ridiculous idea. Are there lots of people available in the market with these skills? No, there is an acute labor shortage. In fact, the  article states that Amazon has 20,000 job openings so they can’t even hire close to what they need.

The article also states that retraining is conditional on the workers wanting to be retrained. While this is may be true, the neuroscience of purpose, and the related creation of purpose-driven development programs, rapidly overcomes this issue. In purpose-driven development, people become highly engaged – and convinced that a program is worth the effort – in as little as 90 seconds. As a result, a person’s desire to be retrained is much less of an issue than it has been in the past. Someone just needs to show up for the first few minutes of a program and this issue goes away.

A more interesting idea is a problem they discuss about anticipating the needs of the future and are they training for the right skills. I believe that the Amazon team is thinking about “skills” incorrectly. They seem to be focusing on building specific skills, which may become obsolete overnight. Instead, a better way to think about skill development is to focus on creating long-term, self-directed, and flexible learners. Once you have established self-directed learning as a foundation you can train everyone really fast in the new “skill-of-the-day.”

So what retraining really comes down to is this – are you doing the right kind of training that prepares for the future or are you just rehashing the old approaches just with new content?

Are you developing the future of your workforce or just using the same-old approaches?

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