Transformation in the Job Market: Learning to Unlearn

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A Delloitte Report from late last year indicated that that there will be a major flux taking place in the job market in 2011. Based upon their in-depth research, the report showed that among people employed, nearly 30 percent are actively trolling for new job opportunities. Even more surprising, nearly half of the employed workforce was considering leaving their current jobs for new ones. Waiting for both employed and unemployed workers will be 69 percent of all companies, who reported plans to accelerate active recruiting in 2011.

These are all positive signs for the state and region. So, what can we do to prepare for better times ahead?

Here is a twist — how about unlearning some of things that you have held onto for years? I know it sounds crazy. Employers are usually looking for workers who come to the table with real-world skills and professional experience. Well, none of that has changed.

What has changed is that organizations are being rebuilt from the ground up. That means traditional organizational structures and hierarchy may now be obsolete. This is a powerful prompt for all of us to unlearn some of the business habits we may have acquired over our years of experience.

In a recent business article on organizational change, Bettina Chang wrote about “Learning to Unlearn,”

“Numerous factors prompt a need to unlearn, from large-scale organizational change to small, employee-specific changes that relate to technical abilities or social behavior. In either circumstance, an employee’s previous experience impedes his or her ability to perform.

The concept of unlearning goes hand in hand with change. While many books and white papers have been written about organizational change, there is a dearth of content on unlearning. Organizations need to succeed at both in order to improve and move forward, especially in this volatile business environment.”

Responsibility to unlearn dated or obsolete business practices and professional habits will fall on the shoulders of both employee candidates and potential employers. The new employee will need to keep an open mind and become flexible in the way they view their new roles and responsibilities. Employers will need to acknowledge the need to unlearn some things by providing clear messages, training, and support to their new workforce.

Kerry Patterson, co-founder of VitalSmarts, a consulting company for corporate training and organizational change, said humans are open to change, but the need to unlearn makes the change process more difficult.

“People don’t resist change — they resist things that they think will end up badly for them,” he said. “They’ve got years of cognitive mass that are counter to what you’re telling them. They won’t do what you ask, and rightfully so. You need to first demonstrate why they need to change.”

We are at the threshold of great change and opportunity for our entire workforce. It is up to us to be ready, aware, and active in the business transformation that has already begun all around us.

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