We have recently been in discussions with and have worked with organizations and people in roles that have historically been perceived as less educated and sophisticated. These roles and organizations include fast food chain workers, production-line workers at a timber company, craft workers in unionized public utilities and data entry clerks at an insurance company.
When we spoke with the executives at these companies we consistently heard a disturbing refrain. They would say things like, a learning program such as ours is “too sophisticated for our people.” They would then go on to say that their people have minimal education (high school or GED equivalent) and are not great learners. Many of the executives would also say “they could never be self-directed learners like employees at Google or Intel,” for example.
This is obviously a terrible, condescending view of these people and fortunately, for everyone involved, entirely untrue. We have run programs in many so-called “blue collar” environments which produced results that were as good as and sometimes even better than “sophisticated” environments. In every one of the blue collar environments the participants thrived and became more skilled, self-directed learners. Everyone can and should strive to become a responsible, self-directed learner for a number of reasons.
For starters, when an organization or learning program treats people as if they are skilled learners, each person’s honor and dignity is enhanced. This concept is known as fair process. When someone is treated with respect it will cause them to grow into that positive expectation.
In addition, when people are treated as responsible learners a change in their neurochemicals occurs, creating an enhanced ability to learn. As a result, people begin to really thrive. People love to learn and we are often motivated to try harder when treated with dignity and respect.
The caveat is that these “blue collar” workers in particular are repeatedly told directly and indirectly that they can’t be great learners. Much of their educational experiences in general, and too many traditional corporate training programs in particular teach poor learning habits, reinforcing the self-perception that they are not great learners. Such workers than tend to perform down to these diminished expectations. However, an organization can and should consciously teach people to be great learners.
Everyone in your organization is capable of greatness, no matter what their role is. Treating each person with dignity and guiding them to learn is crucial and will help to create responsible, self-directed learners — an integral part of every program and the single most important long-term result.