Learning on the job is not just a perk

A commenter wrote,

[going to professional conferences] strikes me as a combination of empty credentialism and galavanting. There’s a reason medical conferences are held in exotic vacation spots (and it sure isn’t that those places offer the most effective learning conditions). And most K12 teachers are required to work toward and, eventually, earn masters degrees. But there’s no evidence this improves teaching performance (Arnold’s ‘null hypothesis’ definitely applies). It does, however, provide a pretext for ‘step increases’ in salaries.

I agree. In most cases, these conferences are simply perks. If you as an employer want me to learn, give me a challenging assignment. Going to a conference is not a challenging assignment.

The commenter continues,

The notion that every career should be characterized by a never-ending process of growth, learning, and personal fulfillment strikes me as one of those ideas that falls into the category of ‘social desirability bias’. It’s a ‘nice’ thing to believe. Although there’s a potential dark side, too — as with romance novels, it may tend to make people unhappy as their own lives and careers fail to measure up to the unrealistic ideal.

I am not thinking of growth as a perk. I think it is closer to a necessity. I think that there is a positive correlation (not perfect, to be sure) between jobs that are mundane and jobs that are at risk.

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8 Responses to Learning on the job is not just a perk

  1. Peter T says:

    On your last point not at all or more to the point, can it be automated / done non-locally. Mundane jobs which require no professional growth such as law, medical, professor, plumber, stripper, pool boy, etc aren’t at risk. Once you are credentialed you can effectively sleep in the job the rest of your life or simply do it the same old way you were taught 50 years ago with no changes for the most part.

  2. collin says:

    I am not thinking of growth as a perk. I think it is closer to a necessity. I think that there is a positive correlation (not perfect, to be sure) between jobs that are mundane and jobs that are at risk.

    I suspect that is the problem with the demand side of labor after 2012. Most successful companies and public services have various mundane jobs that need to be done well. These jobs tend to have modest growth potential and not valued in the marketplace. And after 1970 (when Boomers start joining the job market), companies had better negotiating position but that has diminished the last 5 – 6 years as the Boomers are retiring and 2009 cutbacks left little company talent bench.

    1) Conferences do have some networking benefit and opportunity to learn outside your company bubble. (Which is quite large in learning) Not necessary but it does break the day to day reality. I find beneficial to attend one per year.
    2) In terms of credentialing, I think the job market has swung too much to the NFL/college talent model versus the Branch Rickey build your talent. However, I don’t see employers turning into job and talent trainers.

  3. Matt says:

    “I agree. In most cases, these conferences are simply perks. If you as an employer want me to learn, give me a challenging assignment. Going to a conference is not a challenging assignment.”

    Depends. A friend who presents at conferences for a living once told me that almost everyone forgets all but one thing from a presentation within a month or so unless they go back and immediately begin applying it. I’ve found that to be true of me.

    It’s also why all my presentations start out be explicitly telling the audience what that one thing is that they should retain.

    • Roger Sweeny says:

      A friend who presents at conferences for a living once told me that almost everyone forgets all but one thing from a presentation within a month or so unless they go back and immediately begin applying it.

      That is something high school teachers learn early. They then spend the rest of their careers trying not to think about it.

  4. Matt says:

    Worth pointing out, though, that “perk” implies something given to you by your employer. Under those circumstances, growth is not a “perk” to me. It’s something that’s going to happen regardless of my employer’s opinion on the subject.

    “If you as an employer want me to learn, give me a challenging assignment. ”

    If you as an employer want me to learn, get out of my way. If not, I’ll be out of your hair soon enough.

  5. Matt says:

    I was skeptical of professional teaching conferences. It is mandated in Australia to do a certain number of hours of professional development (PD), and I considered attending to be largely compliance. This requirement, I thought, was used in place of actual accountability.

    While this is largely true, I think benefit can be gained if you approach the learning opportunity in a spirit of growth. Teaching is so busy during the term that a day of PD can be an opportunity to lift your head from daily concerns and think, and contextualise yourself with respect to industry best practice and your goals. It will benefit those who are genuinely in a growth mindset and who want new challenges at work. It will be a junket for others. Unfortunately, teaching subsidises those who like junkets and have fixed mindsets; the amount of ‘deadwood’ is relatively high, and professionalism is relatively low.

    We have a strong union and enterprise bargaining and workers are very safe in their jobs. These rigidities create complacence and too much safety. If there was more need to perform, people would be embracing PD in a much more serious spirit.

  6. Slocum says:

    I am not thinking of growth as a perk. I think it is closer to a necessity. I think that there is a positive correlation (not perfect, to be sure) between jobs that are mundane and jobs that are at risk.

    At risk from what? Skills obsolescence or automation? If we’re talking about the former, then it is highly field-dependent. Software developers are at high risk if they do not continue to keep pace with (rapid) changes in their fields. K12 teachers are at almost zero risk. Most occupations are somewhere in between.

    But if we’re talking about automation, then I’d argue that the correlation risk and perceived mundanity is minimal and may actually be negative. People have a really bad intuitive sense here — they suppose that jobs that feel easy or boring or that need little training for humans are, therefore, low-hanging fruit for automation. This is false. Playing chess at a grandmaster level and beyond has been automated. Cleaning hotel rooms has not and will not be. Am I claiming that hotel-room cleaning is a computationally harder problem than playing chess at a grandmaster level? Absolutely. Orders of magnitude harder. We will not see robotic maids that change sheets, fold towels, vacuum floors, retrieve lost items, notice and report maintenance issues, etc. Not in our lifetimes or — I would guess — during the lifetimes of anybody already born.

  7. Teaching is an art, not really a skill or a position. Great teachers don’t become principals. The very idea is an abomination. Rather, principals do time in teaching because it’s how they move up.

    Think of acting. Do you say actors have to train their replacements?

    Additional education for teachers was basically a ruse to give them raises. There’s no agreed upon criteria for increases otherwise, and principals are too much like small business owners to be trusted.

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