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Developing Technical and Professional Workers

There are several challenges unique to the development of technical and professional workers. First, technical and professional knowledge dates quickly; that means that workers face skill obsolescence unless their knowledge is updated constantly, and it is a special problem with individuals are hired for their specialized knowledge. According to one source, “half of what is known today was not known 10 years ago . . . the amount of knowledge in the world has doubled in the past 10 years and is doubling every 18 months.” Thus, learning how to learn is critical to job success as the way to aboid skill obsolescence. This requires competence in how to learn and a work climate that encourages real-time learning to solve problems and keep skills current. However, learning how to learn is not taught in schools, and the supportive work climate depends on what employers—and managers—do to encourage expansion of knowledge.

Second, employers face the threefold challenge of teaching technical and professional workers: (1) what has been learned in the past based on experience, (2) what has been learned recently about meeting current challenges, and (3) what new developments in the field are on the horizon. That means that having a robust professional development program is critical if the potential for technical and professional workers is to be realized. Many such workers expect that kind of development and will leave the organization if they do not receive it.

Third, with technical and professional workers, it is important to combine technology-assisted methods (such as e-learning), social-networking methods (such as wikis, blogs, communities of practice, and social-networking sites), and opportunities for planned learning both on and off the job. Technical and professional workers are generally more tech-savvy than those in other occupations, thus they are more willing to rely on blended learning methods—and, indeed, often prefer it.

Excerpted, with permission of the publisher, from Invaluable Knowledge: Securing Your Company’s Technical Expertise by William J. Rothwell. Copyright 2011, William J. Rothwell. Published by AMACOM. For more information: www.amacombooks.org

About the Author(s)

William J. Rothwell is professor of learning and performance at Pennsylvania State University and president of Rothwell & Associates, a consultancy with more than 40 multinational clients.