Make learning and development part of your mantra in your job and within your team

IDC Technologies Pty Ltd

By *Steve Mackay PhD, Dean, Engineering Institute of Technology
Tuesday, 11 June, 2019

Make learning and development part of your mantra in your job and within your team

The instrumentation world is full of the talk of Industry 4.0 and the rapid change occurring. As a result there is feverish industry chatter about the critical need for ongoing learning and development for our engineering teams; but I believe many managers only pay lip-service to genuine learning opportunities. Oftentimes an employee is on a training course to ‘tick the box’ — to comply with some ‘magical’ company development plan or to fulfil the requirements of an arcane new policy.

We do, however, need to make learning a key part of what we do in our working careers. It not only provides us with useful technical skills which help boost productivity, but it contributes to the firm’s culture in a positive way. Admittedly there is training which is totally wasted, with no tangible outcomes besides having a ‘jolly’ at the firm’s expense. A few suggestions thus follow on how to make the most of your ongoing learning and how to make it a key part of your firm’s culture and activities.

At the outset it should be noted that only a small percentage of learning and training is derived from formal training courses; it is in fact informal learning — from a colleague, a book or a browse on some internet site — which constitutes the majority of learning these days (generally over 70%).

But if you do engage in some formal training, share it with your colleagues. Demonstrating and explaining new skills to others is an effective way of embedding new knowledge. You may have finished a course on variable speed drives, pump cavitation problems, corrosion, how to more effectively troubleshoot current problems or designs with the latest concepts. If you can show how your learning is genuinely boosting your skills and expertise you will motivate others to engage in a similar journey.

It is also important to help facilitate those in your team to learn. When they attend training courses make sure they are supported while away. Nothing is more disconcerting than having one’s phone ring while on a course because urgent help is needed to troubleshoot that pesky conveyer belt tramp iron magnet or because the flowmeter is showing an incorrect reading.

If, however, you return from a training course with the observation that it was ‘mildly interesting’ or if you cannot show how it has the potential to benefit you and the company, then money and time has surely been wasted. It is critical that formal training is selected carefully.

Another important way to learn is to face failure. A detailed assessment of current projects that have been deemed failures, or at least failed to deliver the results everyone expected, allows everyone to learn from the experience. Failure is very often followed by success, and it is certainly a great way of guaranteeing that a disappointing project is not completely wasted.

Merely freshening up your work experience is also an effective way to learn. Join new projects with unfamiliar challenges, for example. You will be expected to draw on and hone new expertise, and this may involve moving locations.

Training and development isn’t a comfortable experience. Ensure that you and those in your team understand that learning may be challenging and demanding. Tackling new technologies and approaches can be especially tough when old approaches to work and projects no longer offer the required results. The learning process can involve some anxiety, uncertainty and resistance — particularly in the early stages.

Finally, if your attitude is right — if you are passionate and enthusiastic about learning — you will thrive and grow in your career. Be endlessly curious and strive to learn: when faced with new technologies and skills, and when you are grappling with new knowledge, ask for help from those who know. An old Chinese proverb (from Alice Fonda-Marsland) sums it up: A man who asks is a fool for five minutes. A man who never asks is a fool for life.

*Steve Mackay PhD has worked across the world for the past 40 years in the design and construction of iron ore plants, oil and gas platforms and power stations, as well as plant maintenance. He believes university engineering programs need to be strongly focused on industry. He has been the author or editor of over 30 engineering textbooks and is currently leading the first fully online accredited engineering college with over 1500 students from over 140 countries.

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