21st Century Workplace Education

I have been in the corporate environment for many years and always wondered why do we have a training department? I always thought it should be the Education department. Education is not only in academia. In this century, it is no longer learning in school first and then goes to work, it is a life-long learning. Education goes together with work. There is a continuous evolution of changes taking place and employees at all levels need to be current with what’s going on in the industry and in their line of work. Only then they can come up with creative ideas, think differently, share and make positive contribution. In which case, Education & Development department makes much more sense to me.

With mechanization, modernization and technological developments, businesses need fewer people who are trained to do things a specific way and more people who are educated to find new ways of doing things. All people should be able to think and come up with different ways of doing things and offer their thoughts because everyone is an intelligent human being, not just the so called executives. Thinking organizations are constantly alert for new ideas and new methods, keeping in mind the cultural diversity. People across the globe think differently. It is an added advantage to the organization to have diversity from as many angles as possible – experience, education, age, culture, ethnicity and gender leading to a wide variety of different perspectives for better customer focused results.

“You don’t train people; you train dogs, snakes, elephants and fish; you educate people.”- Stanley Marcus

What’s the difference? The word education comes from the Latin ‘educo’, which means to change from within. Training provides an external skill. Education changes the inner person. Training deals only with the doing level. Education teaches people how to think. 1-12 month infants are trained and after a year they too learn to think. This is critical even in schools, to teach the kids to think critically, analytically, logically, conclusively and inferentially.

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”. – Chinese proverb. When you give him a fish you train him and when you teach him to fish you’re educating him.

Let me give you an example: I received a letter from a company that said they do not have my current address. Well, but I received the letter at the current address. When I called and talked to this young woman she had been trained to act. She had been conditioned to recite her memorized lines. She has rehearsed it to perfection. But she had not been educated in customer interaction.

She said, ‘Please fill in the form and send us your correct address’. I said, “if you don’t have the correct address how did I get this letter from you to the correct address?’ She has not been taught to listen to the customer, to think about what the customer is expressing. She is a robot. Often times we try to standardize everything including interactions!! I have seen in corporate environment where people are given scripts to greet, answer the questions and solve problems. What is happening in corporate world? Getting brainless robots? How can they provide service to customers? Can they have a decent conversation on customer needs? The last question she asked me was ‘Is there anything else I can do for you?” I am sure many of you who read this article have heard this question.

Education deals with the feeling level, the way we respond to stimuli. First we think about it, then we begin to feel it, then we choose our behavior and act based on that feeling.

Training attempts to add on the qualities needed for success. Education builds them in. Training is required to teach a specific skill or to learn a specific procedure. But it is ridiculous to develop a process for human interaction… Corporations believe in a myth to develop a process for everything including smiling, greeting and thanking. You’re in a sealed box and they keep saying ‘think outside the box’. It’s vital and crucial for corporations to invest in ways that let people grow by knowing to think for themselves.

* Training focuses on teaching people yesterday’s skills.
* Education focuses on teaching them to develop tomorrow’s skills.

“You can’t have a better tomorrow if you’re thinking about yesterday.” – Charles Kettering

We continue to spend our time in the past, teaching people what to do instead of focusing on how they think, feel and behave; far too much time is spent on getting a job done and conforming instead of producing outstanding results and being creative. We have the powerful creative, highly imaginative brain that we hardly use.

In my corporate experience for several years, I have seen even high level executives who are short sighted and focus on saving their jobs. It is rare to find people who think of “What kind of company do we want to be in 20 years and what kind of employees will it take to get us there? What can we do to educate them?” People seem to be self centered than being loyal even though their resume says so. Only when people start thinking those questions, we can plan educational development programs to develop competent employees for 21st century.

To bring about such changes corporations need behavioral agents, not trainers who are plentiful, easy to find and not particularly expensive. Behavioral facilitators who nurture lasting qualities that won’t become obsolete that quickly are not commonly available. Even if the qualities they taught did become obsolete, people are now educated to think and they will be able to adapt to change. And come up with ways to deal with the changes.

If yours is a thinking organization, you should be able to:

  1. Talk directly to people in other departments and divisions, to customers and suppliers.
  2. Form teams across departmental lines and employees at all levels, to execute new projects or to solve common problems.
  3. Ask front line employees for their opinions and rewarded for ideas that work on a regular basis.
  4. Treat mistakes and failures as learning experiences and not as black marks against people who then get fired.
  5. Thinking organizations are made up of people who are educated in such skills as goal-setting, problem-solving and decision-making, communication and conflict management, negotiation, total quality management (TQM), time management and teamwork.