5 Methods to Boost On-the-Job Knowledge

Education helps everyone reach their personal potential and attain company goals

5 Methods to Boost On-the-Job Knowledge

Fred, Chad and Kymberlee Wilkinson of Wilkinson Portables in Placerville, California, hold discussions in the company conference room. (Photography by Lezlie Sterling)

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Think you know all you need to about waste disposal methods, ADA compliance or cold-weather waste tank procedures? Many skilled people feel they don’t have anything new to learn in their chosen field, but as soon as you start thinking that way, you start falling behind.

Having employees who will improve themselves over and above company-sponsored training is critical to a business that wants to innovate and improve.

Eleven years ago, Ben got a summer job working in the mailroom at a local business before he started college. The company had been in existence for over 60 years and was run by Jack, a longtime employee and company legend who started in the mailroom. Three weeks into the job, as Ben was on his way from the basement to the top floor, the elevator stopped and who should enter but Jack. He smiled at Ben, introduced himself, and mentioned that he had started out in the mailroom. As they exited the elevator, Ben asked if Jack had any advice for him.

“Never stop educating yourself,” he said. “In fact, come into my office and let me elaborate. I have 15 minutes before my next meeting.”

Jack proceeded to share these five principles for continued education:

1. Take responsibility for your education.

You alone are responsible for your education. Whether or not it makes sense to invest in a formal education, there are free and for-fee learning opportunities available to everyone. The public library and the internet are two examples.

Another invaluable source of education is people. Spend time with those who can do things that you can’t. It may mean volunteering to stay late to observe someone, shadowing more experienced employees or finding a mentor.

You can also learn by taking on challenging projects or tasks that are above your skill level. Discuss help you will need to be successful and your boss may reward your initiative by providing an experienced staff member to oversee your on-the-job training.

You can learn pretty much anything if you work hard at it.

2. Don’t expect entitlements.

Time in service should be no guarantee of advancement in a successful business. It is what an employee learns with his or her experience that determines the value of the service time. In other words, if you put in your time, you are guaranteed nothing.

As your time with the company grows, seek lateral transfers or increased responsibility without necessarily a corresponding increase in title or pay. Realize you are making yourself more valuable to your employer, and view growth assignments as an investment in yourself.

Although we live in a time of an increasing sense of entitlement, we must all take care of ourselves.

3. You can’t rest on your laurels.

Many employees feel they do not have anything new to learn, and they become complacent. They decide they don’t need to put in any more effort and stop striving for success.

When you reach a goal, celebrate your success, but then identify your next goal and begin to take action. When you stop moving forward, you are actually falling behind all the others who continue to move forward.

4. Stay current.

You need to stay up to date with industry trends by reading industry literature and blogs. If you are seeking or moving into a management position, read leadership books and blogs. New trends are frequently entering the workplace. You have a choice: be aware of and lead the change, or try to catch up — or, worse, resist the change.

Joining industry and trade associations is another way to become educated on current trends.

5. Respect generational differences.

A big issue in many industries is getting several generations to work well together. Each generation has different learning and working styles. You have several options for handling this reality. The first is to do nothing since it’s your fellow employee’s responsibility to get with the program. Or you can leave it to the business’ leadership to implement a program that will fix the problem. The better choice is to educate yourself on the differences between generations, the issues these differences bring to the workplace, and things others are doing to address the issues.

You can use this information to change how you interact and, to the extent you can, help your company improve its processes.

What happened with Ben?

Ben took Jack’s advice to heart. After graduating from college, he got a job with another company in another field. His education did not stop when he left school. He subscribes to industry and management blogs, has joined his industry association, seeks out challenging assignments and develops relationships with other successful employees at his company. He has been identified as a high-potential employee and is one of the youngest employees at his level. Ben’s future is bright. It’s amazing what a chance encounter in an elevator can do.

About the Author

Walt Grassl is a speaker, author and performer who hosts the radio show "Stand Up and Speak Up" on the RockStar Worldwide network. For more information, visit www.waltgrassl.com.


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