The Future of Work

Should we pay people to learn?

Anna Ott
May 20, 2019

In a fast-changing world of work with skills constantly changing, how can we reward learning more and make better choices in hiring people? How can we motivate employees and contractors to keep their skills up-to-date so we can start leveraging upon their learning abilities for real.

The other day someone interviewed me for a project and asked me what my personal “thesis” would be to transform an HR organization from “cutting edge to bleeding edge”.

I have no clue.
What I do have are strong opinions (a lot), ideas on this (practically infinite) and feel pretty well equipped to use my past two decades of experience in HR to find a satisfying answer to that question for this person.

Yet, — and despite somewhat verbalizing my impromptu answer to the question at that moment — I felt the chances decreased I would actually get to work on that project.

Because ironically, we hire people for the answers they come with.

We overvalue the capabilities and skills they have already mastered. Although we have been promising ourselves for decades now that we would “hire for attitude and train for skills”.

But are we really keeping up to that (incredibly sweet) promise?

And as much as we know about the decreasing half-life of skills or the flipside of having to continuously grow our mindsets, keep up with exponential curves and up-/reskill ourselves constantly:

Who is actually rewarding us for doing so?

I met with an inspiring (and yes, also aspirational) HR Tech startup today trying to build a product around skill gap analysis and they asked me something different: “How can we motivate people to upskill themselves?”.
How can you not? I mean, honestly, which cohort of knowledge workers in the first half or midst of their career, can actually OPT OUT of constantly learning these days?

Yet we know there is little room for that. Even more so, when you’re trading your time for money (aka Freelancing). Because I have not met a single client who would pay me (a retainer maybe?) for just going out to research and finding answers to their questions.

Organizations pay for coming with pre-set answers and ideas. Yes, they send their people to conferences (if they want), training (which they must) or get access to fancy content management tools for upskilling ourselves are they paying them a bonus for doing so? Some of them not even ensure career advancements due to increased skills.

How can we fix this though?

As obviously some people seek input and would continue to build up new skills without rewards but then would become frustrated over time if they get no credit for this. So they leave you — unless you find ways to let them grow and explore new unchartered territories for them within your organizations.

Other people though, are not as keen on learning but would do so with a little push and convenient ways to add more or deepen their skills. But giving them time off for going on (fairly random) training is not doing the trick.

And even more so:

With more people identifying as gigsters, portfolio workers, contractors, side hustlers and what not — how can organizations find ways to pay them for finding answers instead of coming up with ready-made solutions?

Do we continue to buy “off the shelf” or go for “tailormade” when solving the ongoing (and growing) questions of our organization?

And how can we find fair ways to encourage and reward people to learn instead of allowing them to stand still (and still pay them more each year)?

Anna Ott

Thoughts about the future of work and the current state of digitization in HR.