Employee Education: Fostering an
Autodidactic Workforce

by Dana VanDen Heuvel and Mark Kohls

The Expense of Human Capital

In spite of recent growth trends in our economy, the record workforce productivity numbers have done little to ease the staffing pressures that we all face. We struggle to do more with our current knowledge and worker resources and question how we can continue to retain and develop our current associates with tightening budgets.

Progressive companies are taking an effective and low cost approach to ongoing development by shepherding programs to foster self-taught employees, or an autodidactic workforce. The critical first step is for management to start viewing employee education as an investment in human capital resources rather than an expense.

The American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) conducted a two-year study and found that "companies that invest more heavily in training are more successful and profitable. Such companies are also more highly valued on Wall Street, and their market value is growing."

Just five years ago, we encouraged employees to return to college with Tuition Assistance Programs or sent them to a respected business school for an expensive executive crash course on the flavor-of-the-month business trend. Those days are gone, and we need a better way to speed the uptake of knowledge among our remaining staff, while flying below the budget radar.

Building Your Own Autodidactic Team

Many managers are finding that their employees views on self-education are reminiscent of the views of Charles D. Hayes, autodidactic and author of Self University: The Price of Tuition Is the Desire to Learn: Your Degree Is a Better Life, who said, "Answers to our most pressing problems are found in self-education and the willingness to use reason in reaching equitable solutions."

Corporate work teams are finding that what they need to know for their ever-expanding roles can be self-taught through any number of low-cost avenues. Your team can also be autodidactic in the absence of formal corporate classroom training programs.

Following are steps you can take to begin executing an in-house autodidactic training program:

  • Develop a Long-term Vision and Mission. There needs to be a tie between the long-term vision and mission of the department and where employees should focus their education. Determine the vision, share the vision and determine what education each person needs to accomplish the vision.

  • Solidify Management Support. Management support is critical to the success of your program. Management should lead by example, passing along articles, obtaining books to read as a department, and encouraging train-the-trainer sessions after seminars.

  • Encourage Employees to Share Knowledge. Sharing knowledge is imperative to a successful autodidactic program. Encourage employees to discuss what they've learned and "prototype" with their new skills.

  • Permit On-site Learning and Authorize Self-Studies. World-class companies like 3M give employees personal innovation time. Likewise, you need to determine a set time for employees to research educational topics and develop a personal curriculum. Permitting training during work hours underscores company's willingness to invest in their employees' knowledge. However, employees should expect to do most of their continuing education on their own time.

  • Allow Book Purchases. Each employee should have the authority to purchase a nominal amount of books per year provided they plan to read them and/or use them as reference material.

  • Support Attendance at Cyber Seminars and E-learning Courses. Encourage employees to attend one-hour cyber seminars and/or register for e-learning courses. Many times these educational opportunities are provided by vendors at no charge or a minimal cost. As long as the topic is beneficial and not just a vendor pitch, employees are encouraged to participate.

  • Ask Employees to Attend Industry Conferences. Many industries sponsor conferences conferences and trade shows that can be a wealth of information and provide learning and networking opportunities.

  • Develop a Mentworking Program. Mentworking, a phrase coined by Beverly Kaye, means: "a process of giving and receiving by participating in relationships in which everyone is a learner and a teacher." A mentworking program provides a tremendous experience for both new and tenured employees. The new employee profits from the shared knowledge and networking opportunities, while the tenured employee can once again see their work from a "new" perspective, learning fresh ideas.

Once you have determined a vision, gained management's support, and set the parameters, it's time to execute your in-house autodidactic training program. You'll quickly get employees up to speed and keep them there.

Keeping an employee learning and engaged is one of the most important things a company can do. Employees will come to work every day with new ideas, a fresh perspective, and will approach things more creatively.


Dana VanDen Heuvel is an Internet marketing and business weblog consultant in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Contact Dana by e-mail: dana@danavan.net . Mark Kohls is an e-commerce integration consultant in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Contact Mark by e-mail: markakohls@netscape.net . For additional information visit http://www.danavan.net/.

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Copyright 2005 by Dana VanDen Heuvel and Mark Kohls.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. All rights reserved.

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