On Passion
5 Questions to Assess Your Company's Professional Development Opportunities

Reality Check: Companies Aren't Developing Their Workers

An interesting article  in last week's Wall Street Journal by Peter Cappelli from the Wharton School on why companies can't find the employees they need: 

With an abundance of workers to choose from, employers are demanding more of job candidates than ever before. They want prospective workers to be able to fill a role right away, without any training or ramp-up time.

In other words, to get a job, you have to have that job already

As Cappelli reports (and I've been saying for awhile now), companies aren't developing their employees anymore:

Unfortunately, American companies don't seem to do training anymore. Data are hard to come by, but we know that apprenticeship programs have largely disappeared, along with management-training programs. And the amount of training that the average new hire gets in the first year or so could be measured in hours and counted on the fingers of one hand. Much of that includes what vendors do when they bring in new equipment: "Here's how to work this copier."

The shortage of opportunities to learn on the job helps explain the phenomenon of people queueing up for unpaid internships, in some cases even paying to get access to a situation where they can work free to get access to valuable on-the-job experience.

The Employment Contract Has Changed

This is one of the fundamental ways in which the employment contract has changed that I'm not sure we've truly absorbed. Many of us are still living with the illusion that our companies will provide us with the development we need to maintain employment. But this is an illusion, a denial of reality. 

Increasingly we see that the responsibility for development is falling to workers, who must monitor their industry and occupation to see what skills are in demand and then seek out the training and work opportunities that will help them develop those skills. Doing this is a skill in itself, requiring us to be much more aware of larger market forces beyond our own company and how these impact our own professional development. 

We can't just pay attention to what is needed for us to be marketable within our own organizations. We must also pay attention to what the larger market is looking for. And we need to look at how our strengths intersect with that market. 

I do a lot of work with people who have been laid off and one of the things that we consistently discover is that those who are out of work the longest also seem to be the people who paid the least amount of attention to their own ongoing development. Often this is because they were so focused on the work they were doing for their company, they had little time to think about themselves. Sadly, they were rewarded with a lay-off. 

Other workers find that while they may have had access to training in their companies, this training was very company-specific, preparing them to be good employees of XYZ Company, but not for much of anything else. 

I know that it's easy to trust in our organizations to provide us with the development opportunities we need, but for most of us, this is a dangerous and misplaced faith. It's also easy to get so caught up in the present work that we forget to pay attention to the future. This, too, is risky. 

For us to be truly empowered and in control of our careers, we must first and foremost be actively managing our own professional development. We must be aware of what is going on around us and be preparing for new opportunities. There's a new reality we need to accept so we can plan accordingly.  


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