Sunday, June 3, 2012

Essay on Adult Learning

Essay on Adult Learning

The importance of providing opportunities for adult learning, including tuition reimbursement, is frequently underestimated in business settings. However, doing so is crucial for long-term success of any company. There are three major reasons behind this, and each of them will be dealt with in greater detail in the subsequent paragraphs. Highlighting them very briefly, they are linked with the issues of organizational efficiency, employee retention, and attraction of top talent. First of all, highly skilled workforce is the major determinant of company’s productivity and competitiveness. Although this argument might seem commonplace and self-evident, it is ignored by human resource managers far too often to be easily discarded. Secondly, a company that invests in human capital and offers opportunities for self-development to its workers is likely to see its internal branding efforts enhanced: if employees perceive their company as a place where they can learn and grow, a stronger commitment and psychological alignment with goals of the company will emerge. In the end, internal branding results in lover turnover rates and consequently less time and resources spent on hiring and training new employees.

As Jones (2001) rightly observes, offering support for continuous learning of employees is a practice established many companies with a view to “enhancing both their educational opportunities and prestige, both of which also help to retain top employees” (p. 43). Finally, allocating time for adult learning and supporting workers who engage in it, financially and otherwise, advances company’s external branding efforts. In the global war for talent, corporations go to great lengths to attract the best graduates. Most of such graduates care about self-development opportunities their potential employers have to offer.
While all the claims presented above seem plausible, they are also backed by a growing body of empirical evidence. Starting with the first argument, increasing the overall level of employees’ education is likely to give a company competitive advantage over its rivals. Adult education opportunities “enhance productivity, profits, and global competitiveness as workers apply their education to the marketplace” (Jones, 2001, p. 43). Investing in company’s intellectual capital will have a bearing on employees’ problem-solving skills, their ability to deliver quality customer service, and many other related areas. In the third millennium, it is “clear that in many enterprises the value is not in the tangible assets but in the intangible ones” (Brooking, 1996, p. 11). While the concept of intangible assets is broad and encompasses such things as systems, brands, and intellectual property, employees’ knowledge and competencies form the core element of intangible capital of successful companies.

Moreover, given the rapidly changing technological environment, acquisition of new skills becomes an imperative in many industries that rely on the extensive use of ICTs. Continuous learning is an absolute prerequisite for employees’ ability to keep up with technological trends. As Barley (1998) rightly observe, “[t]he shortage of knowledgeable workers in technical areas and rapid advances in technology have energized adult learning in the United States” (p. ii). An effective workforce is not only knowledgeable but also adaptable. This consideration is of particular importance in an organization like mine. Each employee of the Aviation Communication Center should be able to quickly and competently react to any kind of situation and adapt to using different types of technological solutions. Therefore, it is important to ensure that “education is proactive, anticipating and shaping the future” (Jones, 2001, p. 43) rather than merely reactive to past or existing problems.

The second reason why adult learning in corporate settings is important is associated with the issue of psychological contract employees develop with their organizations. The term “psychological contract” is used to denote mutual expectations employees and managers have of each other and informal beliefs and relationships that exist between them. If employees expect their companies to invest in their self-development, a failure to do so on the part of the company can lead to a breach of the psychological contract, which in turn might have devastating consequence for operational performance of the company.

Under a quite different scenario, a company that clearly communicates its policy to provide opportunities for adult learning and offer support to those who are unable to bear the costs associated with education themselves can both attract and retain qualified workforce. While the issue of attracting talent will be discussed later, the impact adult learning opportunities can have on employee retention will be discussed here. The negative consequences of high turnover are well-known to any human resource manager. In order to decrease or even avoid turnover, it is necessary to ensure that alignment of personal goals, values, mission and vision of every employee and that of the company is taking place. This is achieved best if employees perceive their company as a “caring organization”: such organizations ensure that their employees are given the possibility to advance their knowledge and acquire new skills on a continuous basis. Thus, possibilities for adult learning “provide added incentives for employees to stay where they are rather than leave for a rival company or even another country” (Jones, 2001, p. 43).

Finally, making time and allocating financial resources for continuous education is likely to attract the most energetic, motivated, and goal-oriented employees. Every career-minded person arrives to a new company with a certain vision of his or her future progress. Experience together with education is the prerequisite of smooth and quick movement up the career ladder. However, employees in most cases find out to be themselves responsible for choosing and paying for their education; a company that helps them with it is likely to look very attractive in the eyes of job-seekers.

Although there might be many more reasons why adult education in corporate settings is a desirable practice, the aforementioned three reasons are significant enough to make any company reconsider its approach to self-development of its employees. Firstly, increasing the overall level of education of the workforce enhances company’s competitive standing. Continuous acquisition of new skills and competencies is indispensable in the rapidly changing technological environment. Secondly, employee retention has been found to be unambiguously linked to educational opportunities companies have to offer. Finally, attraction of top talent becomes easier if a company provides potential employees with a clear plan for their future career progression.

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