It starts with education
I wager that at least 80% of our problems in East Africa and in the continent in general start with education - both formal and informal. We have outdated systems employing outdated methods to teach outdated facts and skills. It’s hardly fair to expect such a system would produce human capital that is able to cope with the demands of the workplace now and in the future.
There are several ways we can begin to work towards fixing this. Learning by definition is “the acquisition of knowledge or skills through study, experience, or being taught.” We seem to have missed 90% of that definition and decided that all learning for children should be acquired by being taught. Jonathan’s experience with debate club was warming to hear--that a young man being educated in Africa found an avenue to think outside the proverbial box and in the process, develop key cognitive and social skills. If we could make sure children in public schools have such avenues, that’s a start. It’ll take dedicated educators who are willing to spend the extra time to run these programs and understanding parents to encourage their children to take part. Difficult, yes, but it’s something we can consider and fight to implement.
Furthermore, the culture in schools needs a makeover. For a long time school has been a place students go to learn and no one else. Teachers take pride in their years of experience and in effect--years of doing the same thing the same way. But schools must cultivate an all around learning culture that involves teacher learning as well. Educators need regular professional development opportunities to upskill and reskill themselves and explore ways to teach differently in order to achieve meaningful student learning outcomes. Only when we change teachers’ mindsets about their own learning and encourage them to support and nurture student curiosity will we be able to make meaningful changes in the kinds of students we produce.
Do we just leave the technical jobs out of the learning loop?
Jonathan and Shaneil’s experiences with learning in the workplace were fascinating. Shaneil highlighted his experience in working in a department that had the resources for professional development and learning but didn’t quite encourage or embrace it. Interestingly, that department’s core work was extremely technical. I wondered what that means for other technical jobs out there--jobs whose processes are solidly arranged in a certain way and the employee seemingly has no room to innovate. I thought about mechanics and doctors and accountants--how do we make their learning less...dry?
Then I ran into this article and it answered some of my questions and reminded me that learning experiences should be meaningful in order to be impactful--no exceptions.
A learning culture is built from the inside out
Shaneil pointed out a very important aspect of building sustainable learning cultures in the workplace: incentive for employees. For a company wanting to build a learning culture--it’s difficult to know where to begin and it’s easy to fall into the trap of wanting to control factors that may even be out of their domain simply because they don’t want to see their initiative fail--therefore building a “fool-proof” strategy that is geared towards the external look of professionally developed employees that fails to deliver any meaningful results. The most common easy fix or place to start organizations choose to fix their human capital shortfall is amping up the number of regular training (without consideration of quality of the content, alignment to employee interests).
In such cases you find employers outlining an employees professional development path based on what the company needs--completely forgetting that the employee has their own self interests. To build a learning culture--or any kind of culture in an organization, companies should first view the process as just that--a process, not a destination. This mindset preempts an iterative outlook to the process, allowing regular evaluation and re-thinking when things aren’t aligned.
This sets up the company to be open to the process of matching learning initiatives and experiences to employee interests that match the organization’s strategic initiatives. The downside here is that the company may find employees whose personal professional development goals don’t align the organization’s needs and that in itself is a ripe learning experience for both parties. For the employee, it’s knowing that in order to grow in the direction they want, they’ll need to look for other work opportunities that align with their goals. For the organization, it’s knowing the employee and their capabilities and allowing their assignments to fall into what they’re truly interested in.