Never Stop Learning

March 26, 2018
The value of continuing education no matter the stage of your career

About the author: Matthew Wirth is the director of training for North America at Canature WaterGroup. Wirth can be reached at [email protected].

We get so busy doing what has to be done that we lose track of what we will do when we are finished. There is always something that needs doing and it seems to be more important than sitting in a classroom. This goes back to primary school for many of us, myself included. Anything else seemed more important than books. Learning what appeared to be unnecessary at the time was not enjoyable. To be the best we can be, we need to continually learn throughout our lives. What we learn is relative to what we want to do.

Companies and their employees need relevant advice and learning. Relevant learning is appropriate to the current time, period or circumstances of contemporary interest. Critics of continuing education (CE) may find themselves unable to stay relevant in a changing world. In today’s environment, 88% of people look for content on the internet, and what they find is not always accurate or relevant to technologies or standards that govern the water industry. However, self-educating customers are becoming the norm, not the exception. Baby boomers, who drove commerce for decades and who used the Yellow Pages and visited with craftsmen, no longer are the primary market and the primary focus of future commerce. The number of millennials surpassed baby boomers in 2016, and Generation X will pass boomers in the next 10 years.

This means that one must not only stay current and informed on emerging technologies and contaminants, but also be a water technology expert. Communicating with the new age of customers requires that the passing of knowledge be accurate and supported. Having accurate knowledge and understanding puts one at an advantage over the internet-educated shopper, buyer or knower. It is nearly impossible to debunk pseudo-science and misinformation without being grounded in sound science and recognized practices. This level of knowledge comes from years of academic study, learning in CE courses and attending events that offer CE credits. Attending learning events presented by industry experts trained to pass on knowledge in a manner that resonates with the learners is the best course of action short of going back to school.

Knowing Your Needs

When deciding on a course of action for CE, review what “relevant” means for your business and people. What are the technologies and regional water conditions applicable to where you work? Ask, “What do I know, and what do I not know?” The key to finding learning related to your market is being truthful with yourself about your level of knowledge and your staff’s professional understanding.

Those working in the water industry have baseline knowledge that allows them to function within their craft. We learn through mentoring, training watching and doing. To move your education forward, think about times when something was unknown. Something happened that was outside the scope of your experience. Consider why that happened.

Building a well-rounded knowledge base starts by understanding the baseline—the puzzle—and filling in the pieces. Make a list of what happens during the work day that is unexplained. What technologies do we use that we do not completely understand? What questions come up that we do not have answers for?

Build an action plan for learning and find where CE is available. Options for CE are increasing as more states require CE credits to stay current on licensure. Vendors are discovering that customers want CE and look for partners who include this service in their offerings. Many vendors offer CE via webinars and online learning. Once you start looking, the number of learning options might be surprising. Check the credentials of the trainer before investing resources into any type of educational opportunity. Be sure that the person teaching has the level of knowledge required to be an instructor.

The Generation X population is projected to pass baby boomers by 2028.

Become the Educator

Another option is to encourage your own staff to pass along their knowledge. Realize that public speaking is some people’s biggest fear. Try conducting a simple roundtable discussion with your most knowledgeable staff member leading the conversation. Pick a few topics and see how it goes. If one practices only what they know, they never move beyond their now. If one forgets anything they know, then they are truly diminished. As Homo sapiens, we continually learn; the name in Latin means “wise man.” The Neanderthals died out because they stopped learning and evolving. Whether we want to or not, we are forced to learn. Why not embrace it?

Applicable CE requires access to learning, and continual learning is only going to increase in options as the millennial generation pushes e-commerce to new levels. Fight it, or join the movement. It is a snowball rolling down the hill. Embrace the future and find ways to make learning opportunities accessible to your organization. Many companies have, or are creating, meetings and training rooms with media projection equipment where they host invited trainings or watch and interact with live webinars as a group. This is a great way to encourage involvement and team building and create an atmosphere that retains employees.

Training and retaining employees is a big issue. According to a recent Gallup poll, 60% of millennials are looking for new employment opportunities. The cost of that turnover is estimated to top $30 billion each year. This generation wants to grow in their career and they want a positive workplace that encourages personal fulfillment. These are smart, talented people looking for a place to contribute and be appreciated. Building a culture that promotes personal improvement and team building through learning activities will help retain the new crop of talent—a group that requires a large investment in resources.

Moving Forward

In the search for obtainable and applicable learning, look for CE that is offered in multiple ways. A mix of online, in-person and interactive learning keeps the process enjoyable. Some people are visual, some grasp complex theory easily through lecture and reading, and some learn best through hands-on doing. Any company of size will have all of these types of people. Have something for everyone and make training fun. People learn more when they enjoy the task. Look for instructors and events that provide these options.

People require some level of affirmation. The newest group of workers—millennials—works best in an environment of encouragement and affirming reward. Millennial workers are the future, so embrace their vision and enjoy the ride, or fight it and bare the consequences. I believe we will be better off using the positive energy displayed by this group and building on their vision because happy people are productive people.

There are three reasons people struggle with their jobs: the individual does not know what the job is, the individual does not know how to do the job, or there is someone or something interfering with his or her desire or ability to do the job. This is not entirely the employee’s problem because staff development is management’s responsibility. This is one of the fatal errors managers make.

Training during employee on-boarding and continual learning throughout the employee’s tenure helps develop satisfied, functioning and productive people. A company staffed with these people is a great place to work, a great place to grow and, not forgetting the importance of profit, is likely to be financially successful.

About the Author

Matthew Wirth

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