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Outstanding risk management means continuously unlearning, learning, and relearning

View from Stephen Sidebottom, Chair IRM

The only way to stay relevant is to keep on unlearning, learning, and relearning. The pandemic continues to shape our lives, the climate emergency is upon us, war in Europe threatens energy security, and inflation undermines our economic stability. What skills do you and your organisation need to meet and succeed against such radical challenges?

Being prepared for an exponentially different future requires having both a road map of the skills needed and the ability to adapt, change, and respond in new ways. We know how to do things now, and most organisations have a strategy to identify and address current skill shortages, but we have no idea how the world will change, how people, organisations, and communities will adapt, and what skills we need beyond a very short-term planning horizon. 

This means our approaches to learning must anticipate the next big shift – whether in digital technology, climate, medical science, or some other field - and be fast, very fast, in responding to new challenges and opportunities as they happen.

The traditional learning system is based on a model of people completing their formal and technical or professional education early in their lives and assumes these skills will be sufficient to support a lifetime career. This approach to learning can’t keep up with rapid changes and the instant demand for new and emerging skills. It also ignores the reality that people are changing jobs and careers with increasing regularity and working far longer.

Lifetime learning should be at the heart of your personal risk management strategy. Rather than becoming an expert in one thing, which may well (or is very likely to) become obsolete, you need to plan to develop a series of specialisms. If you can connect these areas of expertise and focus through a passion for one consistent theme, so much the better. If you can reinvent yourself completely and operate in brand new areas, so much the richer in terms of experience and perspective.

For organisations, developing effective learning systems to identify emerging skill requirements and create rapid response frameworks will become a competitive differentiator. This requires high participation in learning, so people become adept at unlearning past ways of thinking and relearning how to apply their skills in adaptive ways.

Your learning strategy should deliver highly visible and easily accessible learning that is valued for the future benefit it will bring. A sea change is needed in how most organisations think about their investment in training and adult development, and a more explicit articulation of the new skills and approaches required.

Greater clarity about the needs of employers can help shape government thinking about how the education system trains for current and identified future skills gaps. The UK Government’s Skills and Post-16 Education Act 2022 specifically sets out to address education and training to meet local needs and to support lifelong learning. This will help employers but is not enough to ensure the supply of skills needed. Employers must also invest in the large-scale reskilling of existing employees and creating a culture of lifetime learning and rapid skill development.

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