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Sustainable careers live and thrive on innovative ideas; they don’t exist in a vacuum. Changing customer needs and organization strategies require continuous learning strategies. You need to be a self-directed learner. Learning is an essential tool to building a vibrant and meaningful career. Self-directed learning may be the most important skill for career success. You no longer have the luxury to wait until you can take a course. You need to be the master of your own learning.

About the Author
Caela Farren, Ph. D.
, is President of MasteryWorks, Inc., - a leading Career Development consulting organization offering innovative solutions to large and mid-size companies, including Bayer, Baylor Health Care, Brown Forman, CapitalOne, Northrop Grumman, Reebok, Sprint, Sandia National Labs and Sodexo. MasteryWorks, Inc. provides enterprise web portals, training, consulting, e-Learning, and an assessment framework for employees and managers. For more than thirty-five years, Dr. Farren has been a passionate leader around complex issues redefining the workplace. She envisioned the current workplace climate fifteen years ago, when she published a cornerstone compendium on career development, “Who’s Running Your Career: Creating Stable Work in Unstable Times” (Bard Press, 1997). Through MasteryWorks, Inc., she oversees solutions that create the foundation for impact-filled “career conversations” - centered on increased contribution, performance, and fit. She is a leading authority of strategic approaches which consistently deliver employee engagement and retention goals for her clients. In her current series, “Sustainable Careers,” Dr. Farren describes the most important characteristics of Sustainable Careers.

For more information, contact Tom Karl, Executive Vice President or call us at (703)256-5712.

in our Sustainable Careers series

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Does Your Work Present Frequent Learning Opportunities? - The 8th Characteristic of a Sustainable Career
by Caela Farren, Ph.D., MasteryWorks, Inc.

“Continuous learning is the only sustainable asset in a world of constant change.”

— Charles Jennings


Continuous learning is a strong indicator of a sustainable career and most of the learning needs to be self-directed.Introduction
In today’s chaotic world, it’s no longer what you know, but how fast you can learn that breeds success and confidence. When information explodes all around you and blows away your personal skill sets and prior assumptions, how do you react? Do you throw up your hands in submission or throw yourself into a self-directed learning routine?

Sustainable careers live and thrive on innovative ideas. Careers don’t exist in a vacuum. Changing customer needs and organization strategies energize the need to network and to explore continuous learning strategies. Journals , blogs, books, videos, conferences, meetings, on-line searches, reviews, - enable us to continually benchmark our careers, persistently learn, and continually build our knowledge and skills to master the shifting challenges of our organization and industry.

Ask Yourself these Questions

What have you learned on your job in the last few months? What triggered each learning event? What else must you learn to stay “on top of your career?” What are the consequences of not learning? What new skills do you need to refine and master? What are the major changes you’ve experienced in your job or profession in the last couple of years? What learning has that prompted?

It’s amazing, isn’t it? No matter where you go, work or live, there’s more to learn every day – how to make videos, spot global trends, work with other cultures, lead a new project team, master a new software program or run virtual and global conferences – to name a few. Continuous learning is a strong indicator of a sustainable career and most of the learning needs to be self-directed. You are the person who turns into both the student and the teacher because if you don’t search out and teach yourself something new each day, each week, and every month to provide value to your organization, your career may be on a slippery slope.

A Fable of Learning
Once upon a time there was a dad with five young children. He was an insurance salesman who loved working for his church, his community and as a volunteer fireman. He was entrepreneurial, always seeing opportunities to earn a little more for his family while trying to help others. He saw new possibilities and figured out ways to capitalize. Over the years, he raised chickens in a basement incubator and sold both the chickens and the eggs to his insurance customers on his weekly route. He turned his garage into a hobby shop, making and selling model airplanes, cars and other do-it-yourself kits for hobbyists. One year, he tried to sell Edsels. That didn’t go so well! His children took care of a ½ acre vegetable garden, growing lots of carrots, which he pressed and sold as carrot juice long before Jack LaLanne sold the “Juicer” on television. He was a self-directed learner. He sought out people who knew more than he did. I can’t imagine how thrilled this father of five would have been in our world of “at your fingertips learning and networks of practice.”

Over the years, I created my own work, projects, possibilities and companies, just as he created his businesses. This entrepreneur taught me how to rely on myself and my own ability to learn. I never looked for a job after I was twenty years-old. I simply looked around and created work and consulting projects to serve needs of others. To this day, I continue to learn what I need to stay competitive and ahead in my field of career development. This insurance salesman became my model in life and work. Thanks, Dad. I learned a lot from you in just a few years.

Learning on the Way and Every Day
We are often faced with new policies and directives at work. Organizations shift, in response to changing markets and customer needs. Teams are constantly faced with unanticipated demands. We live in the age of discontinuity and disruption. We need to frequently shift our attention, our schedules, our goals, and our ways of working just to stay current in our career. For example, oncologists are sent daily early-morning email squibs updating the latest research, auto manufacturers send out weekly directives and maintenance updates, EMT technicians are in continuing education programs, operating system manufacturers and app writers modify and change systems and designs on-line.

Learning is an essential tool to building a vibrant and meaningful career. If your work and profession drives you into the learning lane and pushes you to know more, chances are you’re in a great place for building your career. Look at what you’ve needed to learn in the past few months just to be “on top of things” or ready to take on a new project or problem. Staying current is staying competitive; take advantage of your continual learning opportunities. You can no longer wait for the right course to come along or the company to give you time off for learning opportunities. You need to learn along the way and every day.

What Triggers the Need for Your Learning?
I have been asked, “What will I need to know to have a successful career - and when will I need to know it?” Many don’t recognize the circumstances and events that prompt learning. How will you know when you need to “take on new learning?” To get a handle on when you need to make a deposit into your learning bank, - ask yourself, “Is this

  • An important question that I don’t feel confident answering?
  • A problem that keeps re-appearing that I care about resolving?
  • A breakdown that I can no longer ignore?
  • A new product or service that I don’t quite “get?”
  • A news story that has captured my heart and soul? “

Ask yourself these questions and you will know when to “take on new learning.”

The Need for Self-Directed Learning
An increasingly complex social and economic system requires our diligence and attention to what we need to learn. Never have there been as many avenues for self-directed learning. The plethora of books, DVDs, communities of practice, on-line learning, hot-lines, incubators, work-study partnerships, etc., give us broad opportunities for learning. The challenge is not just WHAT to learn, but also HOW best to learn.

Do you live at the edge of new thinking or possibilities or do you wait until someone tells you what to learn? I hope you’re not in the wait-and-see mode or in a routine job that requires little learning. If you’re not learning, your career will dead end. Self-directed learning may be the most important skill to be successful in your career. You need to be the master of your own learning. If you’re a self-directed learner you are researching, talking to others in your network, experimenting with new behavior, challenging the status quo and making recommendations when the world around you no longer works.

How Do You Learn?
Speed of business plus the power of technology and the internet create many new ways to learn. Charles Jennings builds on the original work of the Center for Creative Leadership in developing the 70-20-10 learning model. What does this mean?

70% of what we learn is on the job.
20% of our learning is through other people – peers, customers, coaches, SMEs, mentors, etc.
10% of our learning comes through formal structured learning.
See: 70-20-10 Charles Jennings

Over the years, I’ve witnessed this model in action for sustainable careers. The two most effective ways to learn are on the job and through others. Are you building strong networks where you can turn to others with questions, read their research, watch their videos, bring them in as mentors, or observe them in action, etc? Who can you trust to guide you or hook you up with the right answers? Today, you need networks to help you complete your work successfully and meet the next change. Learning is essential for high performance and sustainable careers.

Are You Working in a Learning Organization?
Leaders, managers and organization cultures need to encourage continual learning in order to be competitive and global. Peter Senge writes in his seminal work, “The Fifth Discipline” (1990), that Learning Organizations are: “those where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning…”

Below is a partial list of the characteristics of Learning Organizations. How does yours stack up?heading here
1. Mentoring and coaching are honored, expected and rewarded.
2. Mistakes are expected – feedback is frequent and relevant.
3. A Shared Vision inspires, motivates and encourages continual learning.
4. Communities of practice abound, with easy access.
5. Innovation and experimentation are core values.
6. Self-directed learning is the norm, with easy access to resources.


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