Where past generations have sought a well-outlined career progression through specialisation in their chosen field, the current job climate now favours the jack of all trades rather than the master of one. Seen as the ‘job-hopping generation’
, millennials have long viewed career progression differently to their security-seeking predecessors.
Employers are recognising the need for diverse skillsets and have begun investing money into learning opportunities
that upskill workers – even if this means they don’t retain them. But more often than not, providing opportunities for growth and diversification within the team will keep staff interested, engaged and happy in their roles.
Soft skills are key to improving your influence at work.
“In simple terms it is important to challenge and develop staff because without opportunities for personal and professional growth people stagnate and productivity diminishes,” says Richard Wentworth-Ping, founder and CEO Wentworth People – an organisation that works with leaders to create change within their organisation.
Richard has found a lack of challenge in the workplace can result in two scenarios: “One, staff may stick around, but they are not energised and two, without opportunities to grow, people look elsewhere. Combining this outcome, you get the wrong people staying and the right people leaving.”
So, how does an organisation promote lateral career development and encourage a culture of learning and development? How can we avoid being constrained by a corporate ladder or restrictive job titles?
We spoke with Richard Wentworth-Ping about how he encourages organisations to provide opportunities for employees to grow both professionally and personally. We also spoke to Neil Smith, Hardie Grant Media group art director, and Sophie Al-Bassam, senior managing editor at Hardie Grant Media, about their experiences of learning and development during their careers so far.
Setting career objectives
While some people can easily map out the next five or ten years of career progression others may struggle with a concept that seems far too linear for the current work climate.
“Not everyone wants to be a manager or executive, but that doesn't mean they aren't ambitious or keen to develop their career,” says Sophie Al-Bassam.
Seeking work that is interesting and diverse might fit the value system of today’s working world better than a ten-year plan of becoming CEO.
“Media and marketing in particular have changed a lot over the last 10 years and will continue to do so,” adds Sophie. “It makes sense that we need new skills and people that are passionate about learning them.”
As a designer in both print and digital media, Neil has seen how fast the industry can move and new trends take over. “As a designer one must always be looking forward and have the curiosity to try something new,” says Neil.
A focus on transferrable skills
Richard warns against putting all of your eggs in one basket (i.e. focusing only on developing highly specialised skills).
“Diversification of skills shows a willingness to challenge yourself and extend beyond the comfort zone,” he says. “It allows you to remain fresh and relevant and this in itself can be motivating and can provide career opportunities.”
“For managers it's really important to develop your people – you never know what skills they might have a hidden talent for, which could be really helpful in growing the company,” says Sophie Al-Bassam.
“We're more likely to have several different careers throughout our lives now, so transferrable skills are more important. I think it's incredibly motivating to keep growing professionally. If you aren't growing in your job, then it gets boring.”
Balancing the technical with the soft
It’s important for managers to take a step outside of the ‘greater good of the company’ and find ways to give their people opportunities to develop soft skills to support their technical growth.
“Unfortunately, the term ‘soft’ can lead to a connotation that these skills are fluffy and less important,” reflects Richard, “yet plenty of research suggests they are actually more important once core technical skills are learnt.”
“The reality is that the modern workplace is interpersonal. Every day (whether in person or virtually) we collaborate, listen, persuade, give and receive feedback, handle conflict, work in teams, change direction quickly – there is nothing technical in this output,” says Richard.
“A focus on soft skill development is important as these skills are harder to learn and therefore require a longer investment in time, practice and effort.”
In any field, it helps to see examples of how different organisations are investing in staff learning and development. Hardie Grant engaged the Wentworth People in 2019 to work with all levels of the business to implement a structured approach to learning and development – which includes workshops, leader-led conversations and regular newsletters.
Hardie Grant managers are also empowered to encourage staff to seek out learning opportunities outside of the organisation – whether these are in a new field that they’re interested in or a conference directly relating to their day-to-day work.
Supporting staff with a specific training budget and enough time to seek out learning opportunities – without the fear of letting regular work slip – is important for fostering a culture of curiosity and self-education.
When it comes to seeking out development or encouraging your employees to upskill, Neil says the challenge starts now. “It is never too late to learn something new. The key thing is to practise practising. No one should ever stop that.”
Georgia Lejeune is a managing editor at Hardie Grant Media.