Informal knowledge sharing alone will create employable workforces

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I've just returned from the World Economic Forum in Davos where the "Fourth Industrial Revolution" was the main topic of discussion. The first revolution was started by the use of water and steam to power machinery, and the second replaced water and steam-powered machines with electrical power. The third is the information technology revolution and the current fourth revolution, is driven by the combination of hardware, robotics, and massive computing power that will embed information technology in almost everything and everyone.

There is a lot to be optimistic about the opportunities from these fast-paced innovations. However, as a board member of Governor Brown's California Workforce Investment Board, I worry about the massive shift in employable skills that will be a challenge both for employers looking to find the skilled workforce and for those seeking employment in their ability to continuously upgrade their skills.

During previous industrial revolutions, it often took decades to build the training systems. Labour market institutions needed to develop major new skill sets on a large scale. Given the upcoming pace and scale of disruption brought about by the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we do not have that much time to train the workforce.

The WEF report says that "Without targeted action today to manage the near-term transition and build a workforce with future-proof skills, Governments will have to cope with ever-growing unemployment and inequality, and businesses will need to deal with a shrinking consumer base. Moreover, these efforts are necessary not just to mitigate the risks of the profound shifts underway but also to capitalize on the opportunities presented by the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The talent to manage, shape and lead the changes underway will be in short supply unless we take action today to develop it."

So how does the workplace cope with skill demands?

I am convinced that any corporate culture must place value on informal learning and reward informal learning achievements. Knowledge sharing is vital to the success of any company. It's alarming that Fortune 500 companies squander nearly $32 billion per year by not sharing knowledge adequately. In a global business environment filled with rapid technology change, hyper-competition and turbulence, such a number is unacceptable.

So what can be done to fix this issue? Formal learning (such as online classes, certification courses and e-learning based on LMS) has long been a part of talent development for a long time. LMS are old-ERP style software that require people to be 'pushed' to take courses which are long-format and often boring.

They try to create the digital replica of the classroom training that assumes one smart person in the room instructing others. The millennials in workplace are digital natives and are wired to learn in a peer-2-peer, Informal and social learning style. They have a shorter attention-span, need compressed learning-curve and rely more on knowing who/ where to go for expertise and enjoy networking with those experts in their topics of interest. It's interesting that three in five young executives plan to rely more heavily on video as a learning and communication mode. The current workforce absorbs information in a variety of ways, from reading articles online and watching videos to talking by the water-cooler with a co-worker and scanning social media posts.

For a company to thrive, it must create a culture where knowledge is actively shared between employees, partners and customers. This mostly comes from informal learning, which can include everything from social interactions both online and offline and curated insights from various sites and key influencers that are personalized to each individual's interest-graph.

For our companies and societies to thrive in this new growth driven Fourth Industrial Revolution, we will have to make lifelong learning as the dominant culture of this decade.

(The article has been authored by Karl Mehta, Founder & CEO of EdCast Inc., a next-generation knowledge platform company and former venture partner at Menlo Ventures, a leading VC firm of Silicon Valley with over $4B under management. You can connect with him at https://twitter.com/karlmehta)

(Image: Thinkstock)

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