Learning is Work, Too
So you go to college (or trade school, or an apprenticeship, or internship) and you learn the skills you need for your chosen profession.
Then, once you’ve finished learning, you start doing the job.
That’s how it works, right?
Wrong. Totally wrong.
In today’s work culture, we have this misconception that the path toward a career is a linear one: Learning first, then the job — once you’ve learned enough to be qualified for it.
Think back to your first job.
Did you learn everything you needed to know to succeed in that role — and then start working? Of course not. No one knows everything about their job before they start doing it. Even leading industry experts can still learn new things about their fields.
That’s especially true for engineers.
Technology is such a rapidly and constantly changing field, there’s always more to learn. That’s why the idea that learning comes before work begins is completely backward. In reality, learning is a continuous process, and the best engineers are the ones who treat learning new skills as a part of their job — and never stop learning.
Engineers should take learning so seriously, it’s a part of their everyday work. Here’s why, and some strategies you can use to make sure you always keep learning.
Work == Learning && Learning == Work
Why is it so important to keep learning throughout your career?
There are a lot of reasons.
For one, no matter your job experience and educational background, you probably aren’t immediately qualified for any role. In one 2013 study, only 15 percent of hiring managers said most job seekers have the skills and traits they’re looking for.
Also, your field and job responsibilities aren’t going to stay static forever. Industries change. Technology changes. Job roles evolve. If you don’t learn new skills and technologies as they become relevant to your job, you’ll just get left behind by engineers who do take learning seriously.
But beyond just being competent at your job, there’s a lot more to be gained from being a lifelong learner.
A UC Irvine medical research team found that people who make learning a regular priority have healthier brains and stave off age-related cognitive and memory decline.
A study published in the Journal of Social and Behavioral Sciences found that lifelong learners are more engaged, enriched and self-fulfilled.
And another study published in The Journal of Gerontopsychology and Geriatric Psychiatry found that learning, especially for older adults, promotes happiness and a decline in depression and other mental illness.
Whether you’re motivated by wanting to be better at your job, or any of the myriad other benefits, it’s clear that lifelong learning is an important practice that all people should make a priority. Professionals need to find time to pursue learning on a regular basis. Read on for some strategies for doing so.
How to Make Learning a Part of Everyday Work
No matter what your professional role may be, it’s clear that learning is part of the job description, whether it’s explicitly written there or not.
There are a few ways engineers can make learning a part of their regular routine, and in this article, we’ll look at two: “top down” learning, which comes from higher-ups at your job, and “bottom up” learning, which is more individual.
Top Down Learning
Ideally, managers and companies should strive to provide learning opportunities for their teams. When learning comes from the higher-ups at a corporation, that’s “top down” learning. Here are some examples of ways businesses can incorporate top down learning for their teams.
Encourage Scheduled Time for Learning
One of the best ways team members can ensure they learn new things regularly is if they schedule time for it. Decide on a reasonable amount of time (say, an hour a week) that members of your team can spend learning, and then encourage them to put it in their calendars and stick to it.
Provide a Learning Stipend or Reimbursement
A common perk tech companies offer these days is a stipend or monetary reimbursement for expenses related to continued learning. Employers can pay for books, classes, video courses, subscriptions, and more to help encourage their team members to learn new things regularly.
Arrange Events for Personal and Professional Development
One of the best ways managers can encourage continued learning is to not only make time for it in the schedule, but arrange events where learning takes place. Think brown bag conversations over lunch, fireside chats with interesting experts and professionals, or networking events with other companies. Provide events that will help your team grow, and they’ll be more engaged and spend more time learning when they attend.
Pass Down Corporate Knowledge
When team members need to know about work processes, they need to be able to access it. Create internal systems that allow for sharing corporate knowledge, like a company wiki or portal. Make sure information shared in the system is accurate and easy to find.
Share Relevant Content Internally
Managers can share interesting or job-relevant content with their teams via whatever communication tool they use (email, Slack, etc.). Read an interesting article about software development that you think your team will find interesting, too? Pass it on!
Bottom Up Learning
Unfortunately, some workplaces don’t put as much emphasis on the importance of continued learning as they should. And even if they do, individuals can still find their own opportunities to learn, too. That’s “bottom up” learning, and we have strategies for that, too.
Schedule Regular Learning Time
Just like managers should allow for scheduled learning time on their team members’ calendars, individuals can schedule their own time, too. Talk to your manager about how much time you should dedicate to learning each week. Then, put it on your calendar and treat it like any other work responsibility so you keep that time blocked off and spend it learning something new.
Create and Keep a “To-Learn” List
Just like you likely have a to-do list for outstanding tasks at work, make a list of things you’d like to learn about. When you have spare time (or when your scheduled learning time arrives), choose something on the list to read about, watch a video about, talk to someone about, or learn about in some other way.
Read, Watch, Listen, and Subscribe
One of the best ways to learn is by constantly consuming high-quality content about things that interest you or are relevant to your job. Seek out interesting, excellent articles, videos, podcasts, interviews, newsletters and other content. Use it to learn as much as possible.
Participate in Learning-Related Channels and Communities (and Teach When You Can)
If your workplace has a dedicated channel for learning, join that and participate thoughtfully in the conversations that arise. You can also seek out learning-oriented communities, either locally or online. And remember that while learning is the ultimate goal, you should also take time to teach others when you have skills or knowledge that can benefit them.
Learning Makes Us Responsive to Our Ever-Changing World
The landscape of technology and tech jobs is changing all the time. The only way to stay responsive to all those changes is by always being open to learning, and by striving to learn new things as often as possible.