Learn, unlearn, relearn: What entrepreneurs need to stay competitive and fill widening skill gap

March 23, 2020 11:39 AM

While established companies can bridge this need-gap by hiring top talent, budding entrepreneurs rarely possess enough capital to employ such resources.

Technological advancements and digitization are the two vehicles that will indubitably drive India towards becoming a 5 trillion dollar economy.
  • By Siddhartha Gupta

 “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who can’t read or write but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn” – Alvin Toffler (writer, futurist, businessman). It is now a universally acknowledged truth that today’s world is changing at an unprecedented rate and scale across all industries. The rise of the internet and the ongoing digital revolution have made it necessary for startups to not only match pace with the contemporary developments but also be future-ready to survive the wave of disruptions. You hear more startups shutting down than surviving, finding sustainability, and then profitability. It’s difficult to push a startup to a steady-state enterprise and often founders are required to don the hat of every professional in every department, function, and role.

This rapid pace of transformation-led progress has resulted in the emergence of one of the most challenging obstacles for the modern-age entrepreneur: the ever-widening skill-gap. Most technologies that we have today will become obsolete by the next half-decade, just like the digital skills that were in vogue about a decade ago have now all but become passé. While established companies can bridge this need-gap by hiring top talent in the market or by striking a balance between recruiting new talent and up-skilling/re-skilling their existing employee base, budding entrepreneurs rarely possess enough capital to employ such resources. Since they cannot afford to invest too much in hiring top professionals, entrepreneurs have to handle most of the tasks themselves as a startup typically operates on the back of a lean team.

It is against this highly-competitive, digitally-transforming business ecosystem that the maxim of “learn, unlearn, and relearn” has emerged as both a fundamental piece of wisdom as well as a rallying call amongst new-age startups to stay afloat in the sea of disruptions.

Such an approach to running the operations enables entrepreneurs to learn new skills and competencies while making them capable of equipping themselves with the necessary knowledge as and when required. In keeping with the dynamic workplace requirements, modern organizational cultures are also increasingly becoming the stamping grounds for professionals who can seamlessly work with cross-functional teams. Hence, lateral as well as cross-functional skills have emerged as must-have qualities for entrepreneurs to startup in the modern age as they are in charge of managing a range of roles including sales, tech, marketing, product development, etc, at least in the initial stages of the foundation of a startup. It would be an understatement to make that entrepreneurs are required to be agile learners.

Promoting learning agility, Self-driven learning culture

Learning agility refers to the ability of an individual to adjust and adapt in the face of an evolving skills landscape. While entrepreneurs recognize the value of unlearning as they have to learn and innovate constantly, they are also increasingly preferring to onboard agile learners who can become active participants in the organization’s growth journey. For startups, having agile learners who are ready to unlearn is another key focus area to ensure sustained growth and productivity. These agile learners hold the reins of learning new competencies time and again to handle major responsibilities and big roles along with the founders in a startup. 

As mentioned above, startups and small businesses often lack the necessary capital to spare for conducting continuous learning and development exercises for their employees. As a result, an effective way that startups are employing to overcome this challenge is by incentivizing self-motivated learning practices within their organization. To thrive in today’s dynamic workplace, an employee needs to be continuously prepared to let go of the past learnings to assimilate new skills and competencies. The best way to do this is by encouraging individuals to be curious and engage in self-learning.

There are many ways in which startups can ensure that their employees are on top of new technologies and competencies beyond those that involve money. For instance, a startup can issue ESOPs (Employee Stock Ownership Plan) to its employees to incentivize their workforce to learn new skills on their own and implement them in their work. Further, small business owners can grant bigger positions to their employees for managing major projects of great consequence, also enabling them to get hands-on experience in the process.

In this manner, professionals can become well-equipped to leverage new competencies in their work. Such an approach hits two targets at once. Using this method, not only can aspiring business leaders ensure the active application of new learnings in day-to-day operations but also make certain that critical business projects are being completed most productively and satisfactorily. Following this strategy, startups can effectively leverage extra skills to optimize the efficiency that goes into completing new business projects while accelerating the turnaround time. Enhanced operations not only lead to the completion of projects within the stipulated time but also drive customer experience by delivering quality services to the utmost satisfaction of a client.

Technological advancements and digitization are the two vehicles that will indubitably drive India towards becoming a $5 trillion economy. To unlock this vision, it will be essential for the next generation of entrepreneurs and small business owners to be well-equipped with technological skills that are most relevant within a particular time frame. Only those with the ability to upgrade themselves in terms of skills will be able to thrive in today’s digitally-evolving world. And considering the current trends, the age of “learn, unlearn, and relearn” is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

Siddhartha Gupta is the CEO of Mercer|Mettl. Views expressed are the author’s own.

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