Stay Relevant and Resilient – Become a Lifelong Learner

Flip or scroll through any business magazine and you’re bound to come across the phrase “lifelong learner.” But what does the term really mean and why is it now so important? Melissa Reeder, Director of Consulting and Project Management Center of Excellence at CGI and a lifelong learner herself, explains how and why you should commit to a career of lifelong learning.

Written by Melissa Reeder • 21 July 2023


How confident are you in your skillset? I ask because experts are warning that the “half-life” of many workplace skills is growing shorter and shorter. The term “half-life,” borrowed from nuclear physics to describe the rate of radioactive decay, is now being applied to business and the relative longevity and value of various skills.

According to the World Economic Forum, the half-life of most workplace skills in 2017 was around five years. Today, experts say, it’s more like four years, and for some technical skills, it may be as short as 2.5 years. The key question these days, reports Chief Learning Officer Magazine, is not whether skills are “hard” or “soft” but whether they are durable or perishable.

Given this new reality, it’s even more imperative that we commit ourselves to a career of lifelong learning. It’s no longer feasible to coast for 20 or 30 years on the training we received in school or on our first job. Given the pace of technological and social change, we must continually ask what skills will be necessary for advancement and staying relevant in an increasingly competitive job market.

Fortunately, workers seem up to the challenge. Seventy-two percent of post-pandemic employees say they are rethinking their skillsets, and 74 percent in a PwC survey say they are ready to learn new skills or completely retrain in order to remain employable.

Why organizations should foster a culture of lifelong learning

Organizations also have a significant stake in fostering a culture of lifelong learning. Eighty-seven percent of companies say they face skill gaps. And 41 percent of global workers, according to a recent survey, are considering quitting or changing professions this year – at a time when the costs of recruiting, hiring, and training new employees continue to rise.

Fostering a culture of lifelong learning can help address all these problems and more. A McKinsey Global Survey found that skill-building is the best way to close the talent shortage gap – more effective than hiring, contracting, or redeploying employees. And companies have a nearly 7 percent higher retention rate at the three-year mark with employees who have learned new skills on the job.

Reskilling is also less expensive than recruiting from outside. The Wharton School of Business says external hires cost 18-20 percent more and perform worse than existing employees for the first two years on the job. And reskilling can also boost an organization’s competitive advantage and enhance employee motivation, satisfaction, and productivity. According to a 2022 LinkedIn Global Talent Trends Report, employees believe professional development is the number-one way to improve company culture. Engaged employees are also 44 percent more productive than employees who feel just satisfied.

Many organizations have taken note of these data points and have committed to reskilling and upskilling their employees. For example, my company, the IT consulting firm CGI cultivates lifelong learning by empowering our 91,000 members, our term for employees, to expand their knowledge in many different settings and contexts.

Under the mantra of “Learning Everywhere,” each member and their manager track the skillsets, training, and certifications needed for that member’s professional development. Members are encouraged to take up to 20 hours – and in some cases, 30 hours – of training per year.

To support this learning, CGI has partnered with Skillsoft to create a blended learning platform we call CGI Academia. It contains numerous books and videos that can be accessed by members from any device at any time. We also provide live training on various topics, including the Project Management Professional (PMP)® and PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)® certifications.

In addition, we offer mentoring and coaching and have formal and informal rotation programs that allow members to experience other jobs by shadowing colleagues. Many teams also use Microsoft Teams and Yammer to update members on the latest trends and industry developments.

How you can cultivate lifelong learning

I should note that PMI is an important CGI partner in our learning and development efforts. CGI has five PMI Council members, allowing us to tap into PMI expertise when and where needed. Members also have access to PMI newsletters and events and a monthly PMI training program on topics of their choosing. So, what can you do as an individual to become a lifelong learner and cultivate a culture of lifelong learning among your team members? Here are three recommendations:

First, cultivate a growth mindset. This begins with reflection and goal setting. Once you have a goal in mind, you can implement an action plan – including needed training – to achieve the desired results. Learning is the fuel that unlocks new opportunities.

Second, stay intentional and focused. K. Anders Ericsson, the scientist who pioneered the “10,000-hour rule” (which says that you need 10,000 hours of practice to become a world-class performer), cautions that learning can’t be passive. You must get your hands dirty. That means intentional practice, lots of feedback, and ongoing and critical assessments of your developing skills.

Lastly, don’t neglect power skills. Emotional intelligence is an area that requires continuous development. It calls for high levels of self and social awareness and the ability to gauge the mood and emotions of others. Achieving a high EQ involves cultivating attributes like empathy and skills like active listening, communication, and collaboration.

As a lifelong learner myself – I’m currently working on a doctorate in Leadership Education – I can attest that these building blocks can help you acquire durable skills and stay on top of more perishable ones. They will set you on the path of developing a lifelong learning mindset and allow you to build the resilience needed to navigate the challenges of a demanding and ever-changing workplace.

Melissa Reeder headshot

Melissa Reeder
Director of Consulting and Project Management Center of Excellence | CGI

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