Leadership and Management

Lifelong learning: different things to different people A simple Google of “Lifelong Learning” brings up a wide range of results which prove that as a term it encompasses more than education. It can mean personal development, professional development, social development and more. This same Googling brings up courses provided by organisations and events from universities to charities to festivals and any number of academic research articles. It is likely something we should all start paying more attention to. Lifelong learning is just that: for and throughout life. It is learning that is not time bound to a specific period of life and that can be taken up throughout our lives. While it has of course become the norm now that people take higher education at all stages of life, we often mentally categorise education and learning to be for our younger years in the development of our career paths. Higher education and lifelong learning sit under a different parasol, albeit on the same beach. We will still be learning new skills but they are not necessarily strictly linked to our career paths and aspirations. Hence you might see the mechanic taking a mooc (massive open online courses) in Mandarin; an engineer taking an evening class in economics or an accountant doing a crash course in Asian cuisine. Why bother?! In our busy lives, why would we be bothered filling our precious free time with extra effort and work? Well it seems that doing such “frivolous” activities can have perhaps more benefit to us even than our initial qualifications that we define ourselves by. Stand out to your employer Employers and perspective employers now want to see more evidence of emotional intelligence in the workplace. They are certainly interested in whether the job will get done, but if the employee is difficult to get along with, has a bad temper, or otherwise doesn’t fit in, it can become more costly in the long run. Being a team player, having a positive attitude and being socially engaged can be as sought after as all the letters after your name. Taking evening classes or further education can be evidence on a CV of this personality type. Within your career, taking on something out of your usual area can open your eyes to skills you did not know you had; if your job and home life have become a little mundane or routine, your evening class can become something to look forward to and very invigorating; you can create a niche for yourself in your current role or open up new opportunities; you can network and show your colleagues and managers that your personal development is important to you…if you are not willing to invest in yourself, why would anyone else? Future proof yourself The world of work is changing and changing fast. There is a vast range of areas that we can upskill on no matter what sector we're in: both tangible and intangible. While it is important to have soft skills in your armoury it is also vital when moving up and around in your career to keep on top of advances within your sector. Keep an eye on courses and developments that your colleagues, peers, competitors and managers are doing.  Mental and physical health benefits It has been proven that learning new skills – no matter what they are: card games, languages, crafts – can help stave off types of dementia and keep us mentally and physically healthier for longer. Social benefit With an ageing population, our older people are now becoming more and more of a voice demanding services in this area. Attending classes and courses creates social cohesion and an outlet for people who may be living alone after retirement. Benefits to your employer More and more importance is being placed by both staff and employers on all types of learning: on the job, in the classroom and informally. It has been linked with staff retention, higher individual and team morale, meeting of targets and goals and improved performance. Some employers have taken a novel approach to personal development by gifting staff money or course vouchers that can only be used for non-work pursuits from yoga to languages to art: the idea being that a happy worker is a productive worker and crucially someone who will stay with the organisation. Someone with diverse or unusual skills may be able to offer something unique to the team or the organisation. Intangible skills Taking on a course, be it a one-day CPD workshop, an evening class, a distance learning online course, a full diploma or degree teaches more than just the course content and curriculum. There are intangible, soft skills that you won’t get in any book, manual, website or seminar: time management, workload management, meeting deadlines, writing skills, organisational skills, not to mention the all-important resilience. If you have to juggle not just your job with study but parenting, caring for a relative, a hobby or voluntary work it can be very challenging and rewarding. Having done my own Masters online by distance learning I became an expert juggler: I fit in a demanding full-time job with unpredictable and often unsociable hours, a two-year Masters, parenting a one-year old, a couple of house moves, family health scares, wedding planning…I can now plan anything with military precision and see everything from a picnic in the park to a holiday as an opportunity to create a spreadsheet or a list at the very least. My family must hate me. The biggest gain of all… On the upside I have taken the confidence that I can do anything I set my mind to and undertaken more pursuits for myself since then. Whereas before I would have approached most things with the “I haven’t got time” attitude, now it’s more with the awareness of the old adage that “if you want something done, ask a busy person”. Since completing the MA I thought I didn’t have time to do, I have completed other recreational evening classes from yoga to swimming to oil painting to public speaking; I have upskilled on YouTube how to build a flat pack wardrobe without cursing (it can be done, I promise), how to bleed a radiator, how to knit; I have fundraised for a children’s charity and hopefully become of more benefit to my employers too. I have also met some lovely people and made new friends and contacts along the way. Lifelong learning is ongoing in every sense – it is the new courses and classes we might do from year to year but it is also the learning we take with us from one area of our lives to the next. It is always interesting to see where a seemingly odd and disparate mix of skills and learning can coincide to give an edge at interview or make you the perfect candidate for a job or project or even just an interesting person to talk to socially. Once you have the qualification, it can’t be taken away so get searching for your next pursuit. There is always time.  -Amy Dawson Amy is a member of the Specialist Qualifications team at Chartered Accountants Ireland. 

Apr 04, 2018

Amy Dawson shares the virtues of breaking out of your comfort zone When was the last time you did something a little bit different, a little bit off kilter from your usual routine, out of your comfort zone? I don’t know about you, but I have to confess that I basically do the same thing most days. My alarm clock goes off at the same time, I have one of about three breakfast options, I head out to work, usually do the same things on my lunch breaks, and I have a fairly limited evening and weekend repertoire from exercise to family time to visiting friends. Exciting, it may not be but that’s the point. I’m perfectly content in my comfortable routine. We all tend to perform well within our comfort zones. This is where everything is nice and steady, predictable, unchanging. Where we’re at our best is apparently just a smidgen outside of that. Why we should get out of our comfort zone Doing something outside this comfort zone creates what is apparently called the state of “optimum anxiety”. This means that we feel a little anxious and stressed, have a bit more adrenalin racing around. We’re a tad more observant, responsive, active, creative and productive than we might usually be. Going back to my first question: the last time you did something even a little out of your ordinary. Maybe you missed your bus stop and ended up in the wrong place, went on a different kind of holiday, started a new hobby? Chances are you noticed more and dare I say it, enjoyed it more and did better at it. Think of the endless celebrity dine-with-me and dance-with-me shows we’re subjected to. We’re always shocked at how good the boxer is at ballroom, how adept the scientist is at soufflé. They’re doing something totally new and alien to them; they’re concentrating and really trying. They are excelling in the novelty. We can’t exist like this all the time. Being in this state of constant anxiety, albeit low, is not a good thing. But erring to the wild side can be really positive. There are a few tips to harnessing your inner rebel. Do something new: volunteer with a charity, start an evening class, book a holiday to somewhere you have never been, take up a new activity or language – it doesn’t really matter what the change is but slot something into your existing life and soon it will merge into your comfort zone. Try to do this once or twice a year to keep you fresh. Just say yes: of course it’s important to weigh up the pros and cons but from time to time, don’t. Just say “yes” to that invite to the school reunion, the sports and social club’s weekend outing, the request to join the PTA. There’s probably very little to lose and if you don’t pre-emptively rule it out, you may surprise yourself at how much you enjoy it. Don’t try to be radical: you need not take on adventure sports…just do little things differently and relish the changes. Change how you commute or the route you take, change your evening routine…enjoy that feeling of the unknown for a while. Make change your new habit: if you can take on little changes, you will learn the positives of taking risks and hopefully accomplishing something new. And then…get back to normal Having said all that, it is important to point out how necessary it is to go back to the comfort zone regularly and exist here most of the time. This is where we find the headspace to process and make sense of our new experiences. Just don’t get too comfortable and stagnant there. It’s very easy to say you can’t take on that new work project or request for help from a friend. Be aware that saying “no” can lead you to at least appear or even become uninterested and inhibit your progression, be it personal, social or professional. The positive outcomes You will become more productive, more creative and rounded in your viewpoints and perspectives. Facing new scenarios will inevitably help you see and appreciate other peoples’ perspectives and approaches to problems. The old adage to “face your fears and do it anyway” can take you a long way. You will become braver, more adaptable; dealing with change will become easy for you. Change will be the new norm. Don’t confuse change with chaos and flux – it can be positive in small doses. Can we help? Maybe you are reading this and thinking of moving along in your career? It could be that you want to try a new area before committing to changing role, organisation or direction? We offer a wide range of CPD and Specialist Qualifications that might help you. We have CPD courses that can help with your leadership skills, confidence and communication skills and networking amongst many others. Any or all of these can cajole you out of that comfort zone. That’s not to mention our specialist qualifications in key in-demand areas like risk, taxation, strategic finance, corporate finance and IFRS. Give us a call today. We’ll be more than comfortable talking to you!

Mar 07, 2017