By Ben Henry

What is Lifelong Learning from the point of view of the workplace?
According to Brophy, Craven and Fisher of The Manchester Metropolitan University in the United Kingdom, "Lifelong learning is a deliberate progression throughout the life of an individual, where the initial acquisition of knowledge and skills is reviewed and upgraded continuously, to meet challenges set by an ever-changing society."

Lifelong learning from the perspective of the workplace is therefore about HR providing the opportunity for each employee acquiring and updating all kinds of abilities, interests, knowledge and qualifications throughout his/her working life.

It promotes the development of knowledge and competences that will enable each employee to adapt to the knowledge-based society in order to avoid obsolescence. Lifelong learning from the perspective of the workplace is also about Human Resource getting employees to value all kinds of learning, including: personal learning, such as a degree course followed at a university; non-formal learning, such as vocational skills acquired at the workplace; face to face learning; on-line learning; etc.

Lifelong learning at the workplace is akin to "˜kaizen' - the Japanese word for continuous improvement. It is absolutely essential to an employee's survival at the workplace. Jamaican companies are no longer obliged to hire Jamaican employees merely because they are Jamaicans. If the best employees are from Suriname, Belize, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, St. Lucia or Barbados, then those are the ones Jamaican companies will hire. The CSM is a reality. In today's world, every employee must add value to their company every single day. Organizations in this highly competitive world are refusing to hug-up mediocrity. Add value or find another job. Period.

Lifelong employment cannot be reasonably guaranteed without lifelong learning. The day an employee fails to add value to the organization he works for his position is in jeopardy. Where does Human Resource come in here? Lifelong learning at the workplace cannot be left to the individual worker. Why? Because if it is left to the individual, in most cases, nothing will happen. Let's look at the three types of workers at the workplace.

You have the "˜Blue-Chip Workers' who are internally motivated - who want to get ahead. They are going to do what it takes to get ahead. They embrace lifelong learning. They probably make up to 10-30 percent of a company's workforce. They continually exceed expectations.

Then you have the second type of workers at the workplace - The Average Worker. These are people who meet expectations. Good workers. They do their job well. But they are not internally motivated as the Blue-Chippers. They are less likely to pick up a book and read it, or attend a free seminar (let alone pay for one out of their own pocket). They need somebody to gently steer them into the direction of lifelong learning. How can HR help to create significant emotional events for these two groups of workers?

Human Resource becomes the critical catalyst in this endeavour, because these good workers tend to operate on a "˜what we need now' plan.

The third type - The Defiant Worker - is not worth mentioning because they should have been de-hired long ago. This group (perhaps 5-10 percent of a company's workforce) has no interest in work, let alone lifelong learning.

HR needs to jump in and craft a lifelong learning plan for each individual at the workplace - a plan that will provide each individual the opportunity to embrace a continuous engagement in acquiring, assimilating and applying knowledge and skills in the context of authentic self-directed growth and challenge.

Let's take a deeper look at HR's responsibility. HR's role is too ensure that everyone in the organization have equal opportunities to adjust to the demands of the social and economic changes taking place in Jamaica, in the region, and globally. The following eleven HR strategies are suggested:

1. Secure the buy-in from the CEO and the senior management team. HR should lobby these decision-makers in the organization to raise the present levels of investment in HRD in order to place priority on its most important asset - its people.

2. Lifelong learning activities must become a part of every worker's job description.

3. Lifelong learning must become a part of every worker's annual or bi-annual performance appraisal.

4. Guarantee universal and continuing access to learning for gaining and renewing the skills needed for sustained participation in the knowledge society.

5. Benchmark lifelong learning best practices in world-class organizations.

6. Develop partnerships with educational and training institutions, locally, nationally, regionally and internationally.

7. Ensure that every employee can easily access good quality information and advice about learning opportunities available to them.

8. Facilitate access to learning opportunities by making them more visible, removing obstacles to access, for example through the establishment of a learning center at the workplace, with internet access. Sandals and Beaches Resorts boasts fifteen learning centers but, only a handful presently has internet access.

9. Create a learning culture by giving learning a higher profile, both in terms of image and by providing incentives for those employees most reticent to opt for learning.

10. Develop ILAs (Individual Learning Accounts) which document the training an employee receives in the various areas. This is standard at Sandals and Beaches Resorts.

11. Seek accreditation of courses conducted at the workplace. Sandals Corporate University has moved aggressively in this regard. Sandals and Beaches team members who read for the Sandals Corporate University Certificate programs in Customer Service, Customer Service Management and Customer Service Leadership will now receive 18 credits towards a degree at Hocking College in the United States. SCU intends to also seek accreditation from the University Council of Jamaica, and City and Guilds for its Certificate Programs.

Lifelong learning at the workplace is critical to the survival of the 21st century organization. If organizations fail to provide their employees with opportunities for lifelong learning, then the best and brightest will gravitate towards those organizations that foster personal growth. Failure to invest in lifelong learning for employees is a short-sighted policy which will eventually result in those organizations falling into a state of "permanent potentiality", constantly wondering why they are not competitive and always coming up with the wrong reasons. Companies which embrace lifelong learning for its employees will always have a competitive edge over those which fail to invest in this critical endeavour.

Dr. Ben Henry is Managing Director of Customer Service Academy of Jamaica Limited. This presentation was made at the Lifelong Learning Conference 2006 on Wednesday, October 11, 2006 at the Sunset Jamaica Grande Resort and Spa in Ocho Rios.