Best Practices for Learning – The 21st Century Employee

By: | February 28th, 2015

The fast pace of change brings us new opportunity every day. This is especially true for the technologies that influence what we do and how we do things. The pace is accelerating, and there are those that keep pace and those that fall behind. This article covers the attributes that I look for and respect in employees and business partners, as well as the tools we should be leveraging.

Embrace Change

As already mentioned, change is today’s constant. Change is being driven by new technologies, by greater levels of competition and by a global marketplace. In many cases, work is no longer a 9 to 5 process. You’re able to take a break during the day and check business emails at 10:00 in the evening from a computer, tablet, and smartphone. Your smartphone is no longer just a phone; it’s a tool that has hundreds of additional uses based on the apps you have installed. With the Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT), we are now able to access and troubleshoot equipment at any time and from any place. Communicating with the other side of the world is just an Internet connection away. Change is the new normal and today’s employee needs to be open to change, embrace the change, and be eager to adopt and master new ways of doing things, in fact – searching for new ways of doing things.

Continuously Improve

We are no longer in a world where you learn one set of skills and apply them. The pace of technology is presenting us with the need and opportunity to learn continuously and improve in our professional life. Training is no longer the sole responsibility of your manager or the company. You know your job, you know the business you are in, and you have the tools at your disposal to tap into streams of knowledge that keep you informed and let you grow your value on a continuous basis. Your skills and knowledge should not be isolated.  There is no room in today’s business for tribal knowledge. The modern employee is part of an organization and has the responsibility to share their experiences and work to improve those around them. Employers may manage the minimum standards, through tests and training, but it’s now up to the employees to differentiate themselves and hone their skills.

Master New Technologies

Today’s pace of technology guarantees that if you aren’t embracing change and adopting new tools, tips, and tricks on a consistent basis, then you are falling behind and risking your value. That may sound harsh, but it’s the fact of today’s life. When I see someone that hasn’t yet embraced smartphone technology, or responsibly introduced them to the next generation as a learning tool, then I see someone that is losing value from an employment perspective and setting the wrong example.  If you’re not leveraging technology, then you certainly aren’t meeting my other criteria, and you are being left behind.

So, what are the tools that are essential to master?

They fall into several categories, and I would recommend these as the minimum set:

Technology Awareness – Use technology to keep up with technology.  Learning needs to become convenient and take place both at home and in the workplace. A home PC used to be the minimum requirement, but that has given way to the smartphone and tablet, tools that are mobile and can enable you at any time and any place.  These devices are only a container for other functionality. Keeping up with technology means tracking and leveraging the latest apps that can deliver the information you need automatically. The process of learning and improving is a continuous one. The applications you install on your phone or tablet will have as great an impact on your ability to continuously improve as having the devices in the first place. You need to be leveraging them in a way that they deliver the most value to you, enabling you to be reactive and learn without effort. It means installing the apps and filters so that relevant information is delivered and available with minimal work on your part. These processes are easy to master. Keep in mind that others around you ARE mastering them. If you aren’t, then you are falling behind. Don’t just look at your colleagues – consider your market and your competitors.

Communication – How do you communicate? There are many options today, and the modern employee is likely going to leverage several forms of communication, not just one. The process of making a phone call is obvious. Certainly email and texts are other convenient forms that everyone uses.  Then there is instant messaging, voice and video through tools like Skype, Google+ and Webinar products. These technologies deliver file sharing and screen sharing that are valuable capabilities for collaboration. The world of personal and professional is also blurring. Facebook may become a form of communication in your professional life depending on the business in which you are involved. I see many people using all of these, but only minimally understanding the features they deliver. The majority of features that represent real value remain untapped. The modern employee should explore tools in depth, mastering them for all the potential they offer.

The Tools for Continuous Learning – I like to think of information as something that is streaming around us every day. We need to leverage technology to capture those streams, filter them and deliver them to us. As mentioned earlier, we need technology to keep up with technology. The two most convenient tools for tapping into the information around us are Twitter and LinkedIn Groups. Of course, there are many content aggregation sites that act as funnels for information, and you should be developing a list of your favorites. There isn’t any one solution to capture knowledge. Solutions will come and go with time, being replaced with something more convenient.  Again, it’s a case of selecting and mastering the many tools that will deliver value, not just one.

  • Twitter – It’s not all about tweeting. It is about following the accounts that will bring information of value to you. This can be news, technology, and the thoughts of market leaders. If you’re getting overwhelmed with noise in your Twitter feed then you’re following the wrong streams.
  • Hootsuite – a great tool for managing all your social media streams from Twitter to LinkedIn, Google+ and Facebook. Hootsuite provides organization to the data you are monitoring.
  • Google Alerts – Have Google find, filter and deliver information to you.
  • Flipboard – a very nice content aggregator for viewing your interests.
  • LinkedIn Groups – both public and private forums for online networking and sharing. Groups enable you to communicate with others in your area of interest.
  • Meet-Up – a networking portal for face-to-face meetings of the like-minded.

Managing Your Reputation and Connections – With the Internet comes the ability to connect and collaborate with anyone in the world. Leveraging this awesome power will deliver great rewards in learning.  The most important service for networking is LinkedIn. For a professional, LinkedIn cannot be ignored. It has become the online resume. But more importantly, it has also become the way to communicate and collaborate with all other professionals, regardless of company or position. LinkedIn has become your online reputation. It is very important for you to keep your profile up to date and professional. The more you put into it, the more you will benefit in return. LinkedIn – Your online profile and opportunity to meet and collaborate with others, professionally.

Summary – Embrace change and learn something new every day. Keep ahead of those that don’t try as hard. Don’t avoid change, embrace it. And don’t be afraid to stumble, everyone does.

“Even if you fall on your face, you’re still moving forward.”  – Victor Kiam

Roy Kok is an automation industry veteran of over 30 years, having worked with Data Acquisition, HMI/SCADA and Reporting technologies. Roy is also the vice president of sales and marketing for Ocean Data Systems, makers of Dream Report.

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