Cover Story: The Evolution of Learning & How It Impacts Your Business

Some may remember back when Mr. Rogers would bring the local fireman, nurse, or maybe an airline pilot on his long-running PBS television show to chat with the neighborhood kids about their jobs. It’s a scene that’s mirrored today in elementary classrooms across the nation, including Volusia County, where parents often visit to share stories and insights about their chosen professions. 

Except nowadays those same parent professionals aren’t just visiting schools, they’re attending them. Luckily they don’t have to leave the office…their employers are doing it for them.

Facing a skills gap that’s endemic in the Central Florida region and nationwide, more employers are becoming active participants in the professional development of their employees. A report prepared by the Center for Economic Forecasting and Analysis at Florida State University (CEFA), suggests that educators and business leaders increase collaboration and strategies to bolster workforce development in growing area industry sectors such as culinary services, business management and marketing, accounting and construction trades.

“The challenge facing Florida’s business and industry is twofold,” says CEFA Director, Dr. Julie Harrington. “We must continue working together to expand the pipeline of skilled workers and support the professional development of the workers we already have.”

The notion that one can passively survive in a skilled career – or even hold on to the same career until retirement – is a thing of the past. These days, most jobs require at least some supplemental education just to keep up with technological advances. Generations of current and future workers must continuously adapt and grow with the times. As companies and industries constantly evolve in order to thrive, it’s only natural that workers continuously build on their value to employers.

According to the Journal of Training and Development, the message is clear: “Knowledge is king in today’s business environment,” fueling productivity and quality, and making it critical for employees to commit to continuous self-improvement so the organizations they work for can effectively respond to inevitable change.

Fortunately, technology, the Internet, and advancements in educational delivery systems and strategies have made workplace learning and continuing education more accessible and
cost effective.

In this issue of EVOLVE, we take a look at how career preparation and workforce training are more embedded in the culture of our business communities than ever before. We see it in partnerships with area schools that are introducing our young citizens to potential careers. We see increased collaborations among business leaders and area educators to develop top-notch, relevant curricula delivered in traditional and creative new ways that are appropriately suited for adult learners. We will highlight case studies that show why and how some businesses like Boston Whaler, Thompson Pump & Manufacturing, and others are investing in their incumbent workers’ professional development, evidence of a new paradigm in today’s corporate environment that places a premium on knowledge and continuing education.

Career Academies and Higher Education: – Extending the Career Pathway

The beginning stages of this lifelong learning trek belong to the high school and college level. Career academies provide students an education with a purpose. They are avenues for students at the high school level and below to be introduced to actual careers, managed by the schools themselves, and provide them with an introduction on what their future pursuits might be. Elsewhere in this issue of EVOLVE you’ll read about the exceptional work being performed by Volusia County Schools in providing a talent pipeline through career academies.

While in today’s age of learning career academies are the initial stage of getting high schoolers college and job ready, the concept of pathway programs has become a staple means of jumpstarting careers at the post-secondary education level.

No longer does one simply pursue a bachelor’s degree in business, or a vocational certificate in, say, air conditioning repair, and hit the job market. Education and workforce training are now designed for the short and the long hauls, with stackable credits that can transfer to more advanced credentials and multiple entry and exit points along one’s career journey.

At local colleges and universities, students can pursue a diverse combination of career pathways in fields such as healthcare, business, computer science and more, as part of a concerted effort among educators and industry partners to build a sustainable pipeline of skilled workers.

“We rely heavily on the very active partnerships we’ve built to advise us on industry trends and help develop relevant curricula that aligns with the skills needed for employment and career progression,” said Dr. Sherryl Weems, associate vice president of the College of Workforce, Continuing and Adult Education at Daytona State College. “None of this can work in isolation. We all are investing in a systemic approach to creating a workforce infrastructure for the region.”

Cooperative Education:
Real-World Learning

The next stage of this pipeline consists of what students get outside of the classroom. Interest in workplace learning has grown in recent decades due to the changing character of work and the acknowledgement of the workplace as a learning environment. Via cooperative education, job shadowing, internships, and partnerships, employers are aligning with colleges and universities to create fertile ground for recruiting the best new graduates. They are also giving certain classes the opportunity to work on capstone projects that will actually have an impact on what they do.

Such experiences have been shown to motivate students to persist and complete their programs of study. They also are mutually beneficial, as employers get to screen potential future full-time employees. Firms that hire new college graduates now rank internships as their most effective source of new recruits. In 2016, nearly 25 percent of new full-time workers in the United States were recruited from co-op/internship programs, according to the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University.

This trend is mirrored locally by employers such as Daytona International Speedway, Raydon Corp., LPGA, area hospital IT departments, county and municipal governments, and members of the Volusia Manufacturers Association, which often take on interns as full-time employees upon graduation.

Continuing Education: Supporting Lifelong Learning

So what happens when that person finally gets the job? In a workforce environment that’s in a constant state of change, continuous training and improvement on the job are an integral part of the strategic planning cycle for today’s most productive business enterprises.

Locally, and for decades, Daytona State’s Center for Business & Industry has been a key resource for local government agencies and businesses-large and small-seeking customized training for their employees. Recent clients include Thompson Pump & Manufacturing, the Florida Division of Blind Services, Boston Whaler, the city of New Smyrna Beach, and Teledyne Oil & Gas, to name a few.

For individual employees, particularly those in fields related to healthcare or information technology, lifelong learning is a matter of maintaining professional licensure and fending off obsolescence.

“Technology is changing so quickly that if you are in the IT or computer science field you need to retool every six months, minimum,” said Dr. Glenn Dardick, associate professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
Continuing Education and the
Adult Learner

How do you convince the tenured professional that there’s still more to learn? Better yet, how do you make it attractive to them? When it comes to teaching and learning, one size does not fit all. It’s not unusual for workers to change careers multiple times. As a result, many find themselves back in school as adult learners, far removed from the early years of college, high school or vocational education, and bringing with them a two-edged sword of life experience and priorities.

Adults learn differently than children. Malcom Knowles, a preeminent researcher on psychosocial and cognitive development, suggests that children tend to be dependent learners, while adults need to be independent and exercise control. In addition to being self-directed, adults don’t necessarily see their primary roles to be that of learners. They are earners, parents and spouses first. Their motivation to learn is generally based on the need to fulfill their role in these capacities or to cope with life changes. Adults learn best when they perceive the outcomes of the learning process as something valuable they can immediately apply to their lives or professions.

This has key implications for employers seeking to develop structured, in-house professional developmental programs. By providing a learning environment that meets the needs of adult learners, we enhance their potential for success.

Mr. Hull, of the Center for Occupational Research and Development, proposes that in order to close the skills gap, it’s time to think differently about how we re-educate and prepare adult learners. He notes that by understanding the psychosocial barriers many adult learners face, employers can develop more structured, in-house, learning environments and cultures. He suggests that competency based instruction is emerging as the best strategy for teaching the adult learner, noting that adults must see personal accomplishment every day, that they require immediate feedback on their work, and that course work should be flexible so that adult learners can fit their education into their everyday lives.

Post-Retirement: Learning to sharpen the mind and body

The Baby Boomer generation is changing the paradigm of retirement, with more and more seniors continuing to work

Retirement offers opportunities to explore one’s interests that had previously been delayed during full-time work years. For some, full retirement is not an option. Over 25 percent of Florida seniors were employed last year, according to the Florida Department of Elder Affairs (FDOEA). The stereotype of the elderly sitting at home with nothing to do is frankly, false in today’s market economy.

With nearly 4 million citizens age 60 and older, Florida has the highest percentage of elders in the nation, according to the DEOA. In Volusia County, 30 percent of the population is 65 and older. Staying engaged and having a sense of purpose, whether through continued employment or by other means, has been proven to carry many benefits for seniors.

For employers, senior workers offer valuable experience. As the economy recovers from the Great Recession, many industries are finding it harder to fill jobs, particularly in skilled trades; and seniors are helping to fill that gap, according to a recent study by the University of Kentucky.

The research notes that senior workers often serve as key mentors within the corporate environment, exemplifying a strong work ethic on behalf of their younger colleagues as well as an ability to manage problems, respond to emergencies and provide better service to customers.

Indeed, the pathway to a successful rewarding career is no longer a linear one, but rather more cyclical in nature. Life, technology, innovative new ways of workplace operations and outright necessity move us to look ahead and evolve by practicing the concept of lifelong learning.

As the late Mr. (Fred) Rogers once said, “Often when you think you’re at the end of something, you’re at the beginning of something else.”

How Millennials Learn

Millennials are now the nation’s largest living generation, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Born 1981 to 1997, they now number over 75 million, surpassing the number of Baby Boomers, born 1946 to 1964.

As Millennials begin to comprise the majority of the nation’s workforce, educators and employers must become tuned to the differences in
how this demographic learns, particularly in this new age of lifelong
workplace learning.

Dr. Christy Price, a psychology professor at Georgia’s Dalton State College, is renowned for her groundbreaking work on how Millennials learn.

For one, they are the first generation to be fully raised in the aftermath of the technological revolution in which information has been instantly available to them thanks to the Internet and mobile technology.

In her research, Dr. Price summarizes the main components for engaging Millennial learners:

  • Relevance – Millennials do not typically value information for its sake, so connecting course content to the current culture, and making learning outcomes and activities relevant to them and their future is important.
  • Rationale – Unlike Baby Boomers, Millennials are more likely to conform, comply and adhere to course and workplace policies when they are provided with a rationale.
  • Relaxed – Millennials thrive in a less formal, more comfortable learning environment in which they can informally interact with their instructor and one another.
  • Rapport – Millennials are relational. They are more willing to pursue learning outcomes when their instructors connect with them on a personal level.
  • Research – based methods – Millennials have grown up in an era in which they were constantly engaged. When they are not interested, their attention quickly shifts elsewhere. This research suggests Millennials prefer a variety of active learning methods, as opposed to a more traditional lecture-only format.