The Power of Skills: Intentional Learning

25 Mar, 2022Renske Start
Josephine Meijer, Learning Designer and Trainer at Lepaya is co-author of this article

Not in ten or twenty years, but already in three years, by 2025, 85 million jobs may be displaced by a shift in the division of labor between humans and machines. We have most likely all heard of the job displacement that is occuring before. Many jobs will change, or are already changing while simultaneously, according to the World Economic Forum, 97 milion new roles will emerge.

Whether employees will change jobs, or remain in their changing roles, they will have to learn new skills or develop the skills they have. This has been ongoing, and does not come as a surprise. Our research shows that employees are aware that digitization is affecting their employment prospects: 42 percent fear that their skills will no longer be relevant in 20 years. However, 54 percent of employees do not receive help from their employer concerning their development. (1)

When roles are changing, the core skills we need to perform these jobs are changing with them. The World Economic Forum seconds this noting that the share of core skills that will change in the next five years can run up to 40 percent. This is asking a lot from employees, we see that over half of them will need reskilling. With the pandemic additionally having accelerated many changes, including the way we work and where we work. (2)

So how can organizations make sure their employees can adapt to change and are up to the challenges of displacement? How can they make sure that their employees will have the right skills to perform their jobs well?

Upskilling in order to adapt to change

According to McKinsey’s research adaptability plays a pivotal role in dealing with change.

“Adaptability—the ability to flexibly and efficiently learn and apply that knowledge across situations — is the secret sauce to thriving amidst uncertainty.” (3)

Adaptability, adapting to change, however, is not a skill easily acquired. There are enough studies that note employees are passive learners, instead of learners that tackle learning with intention. Our own research indicates that although 42 percent of organizations think that employees will no longer have the right skills in 10 years, 31 percent of organizations do not have a clear upskilling strategy. Upskilling is not yet a focus for everyone. Even though 1 in 6 employees fear a skills gap, 54 percent of employees says that their organization is not actively supporting them to upskill. (4)

McKinsey research supports this and indicates that although 50 percent of leaders are facing business problems due to an unforeseen skills gap, and the majority do think that upskilling and reskilling are the crux of the solution, still only 13 percent feel confident about implementing strategy. (5)

With job displacement, and a great number of new jobs emerging, the call for individuals and organizations alike to invest in learning and development has never been more insistent. Because of the skills gap, employees have to adapt to new skills in order to perform their jobs, and organizations have to invest in upskilling in order to become future-proof. The World Economic Forum is not mincing words and has even dubbed this a ‘reskilling emergency’.

Both upskilling and reskilling are about learning skills, whether you are starting from scratch or already have some basics . Development and reskilling don’t come out of nowhere, and they’re certainly not a trend. Within HR, upskilling and reskilling are debated topics, and we’re seeing the terms appear more and more frequently in the news.

Still, interestingly enough 6 out of 10 organizations believe personal growth, such as refining knowledge and skills, is the responsibility of the employee.

When we dive into the current working landscape, there are organizations that do stress the urgency of upskilling. Randstad, of course, talks about the importance of retraining and development, and both the Dutch government and the FD also see that within the current tight labor market, development and retraining are necessary to continue holding essential jobs. The FD even writes that the urgency is high and “workers are at a loss for words.” There is a high demand for professionals to develop and retrain so they learn future-proof skills to anticipate digital change. Upskilling and reskilling are terms that should be heard daily within every organization. (6)

Intentional learning

“Learning itself is a skill” (7)

Daily employees encounter tasks that can prove a challenge. But how do they cope with these challenges, and with these tasks? Learning and development is often compartmentalized into moments of ‘official training’. Where employees sit, listen and learn new skills. As McKinsey notes:

“Formal learning opportunities account for only a small percentage of the learning a professional needs over the course of a career.” (8)

This can however mean that tough tasks and challenges encountered on a daily basis are not seen as learning opportunities. Because they are not treated as such. Learning is often something we do in fixed settings or it is a form of unconscious and reflexive behavior. Sometimes, even seen as an extra, or too much, effort. It is only when employees start with intentional learning that they can embrace their need to learn. And they do need it, as mentioned they do often have to cope with skills gaps.

Intentional learners are learning all the time, and making the most of learning opportunities i.e. tough tasks. And although they are experiencing the same daily moments as their team members, they get more out of those opportunities because everything — every experience, conversation, meeting, and deliverable — carries with it an opportunity to develop and grow. (9)

It is the skill of Intentional Learning that can make organizations become adaptable in order to fight the skills gaps and make sure that employees can adapt to changing roles. Learning this skill takes training of two mindsets.

Adopt a growth mindset

When we are talking about a growth mindset, we often look to Stanford Psychologist Carol Dweck and her work on the difference between a fixed or a growth mindset.

A fixed mindset plays into the belief that personality traits, talents and abilities are finite or fixed resources that can not be altered or improved. Employees simply are the way they are, from the moment they are onboarded to the moment they leave. This mindset often comes with black/white thinking, considering oneself to be either intelligent or average or a success or a failure. This type of thinking is a very big block if employees want to learn, because it eliminates permission to fail.

“The fixed mindset doesn’t allow people the luxury of becoming. They have to already be.” Carol Dweck. (10)

As opposed to the fixed mindset, a growth mindset will enable employees to learn. When traits are not fixed but capabilities that you can cultivate, you have the room to grow, expand and change. Having a growth mindset is not fixed on the outcomes of an experience and releases expectations of perfection, it gives people room to try new things and most importantly to fail. Every try, failure or success brings new insights, shows an employee that they are developing, and how they are changing.

When employees adopt a growth mindset, they can begin shifting towards seeing opportunities in challenging situations, and ultimately adapt to change. “I’m not good enough to lead an entire team” can turn into “I need some extra experience before I can lead a team of people properly”. Of course this shift is not something that employees will manifest from one day to the next, we are talking about beliefs that run deep and that are connected to inner dialogues. But training a growth mindset is definitely possible, and will open the door to a change in thinking and behavior.

Feed a curiosity mindset

At the heart of intentional learning there is: curiosity. Employees have to stimulate curiosity, so that they can dive into learning. Curiosity is all about opening the door to new things, creating insights, being open to ideas, it is crucial if we want learning to be effective.

As said, intentional learners are always learning. Because intentional learning is not something we do at fixed times and in fixed settings, curiosity is key. It jump starts learning, because when employees are curious and inspired they will view tasks from a different perspective. This stance towards daily situations is a great motivator and the beginning of a virtuous cycle that will continue throughout someone’s entire career. It can feed your ability as a self-directed learner.

Where to start with organizing intentional learning?

As an organization you want to make sure your employees are resilient, that they can adapt to change and even better: that they can make the most out of changes and tough situations. So where do you start as an organization with feeding your employees the right skills?

Would you like to know more about how employees can adapt to change?

Join our webinar: The Power of Skills: Intentional Learning, hosted by Josephine Meijer.

Reserve your spot


Sources about Intentional learning and how to adapt to change

  2. Work economic forum, future of jobs, 2020
  10. Carol S. Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, New York: Random House, 2016, p. 25.