Learn Something New

Whatever you do, your business's industry is constantly changing and evolving. By learning something new about your field, you can stay ahead of your competition.

Imagine for a moment that you’re playing in the biggest baseball game of your life. The bases are loaded; there are two outs and all your teammates are depending on you. You nervously step up to the plate as the umpire dusts it off, and you set your goal beyond the outfield fence. Suddenly, as you prepare to swing, you look down and realize that you have no bat! You’ve given yourself no chance.

Now imagine that the batter is you, the business owner. All the cheering fans are your clients. Your loyal teammates are your employees and the tough opposition on the mound is your competitor. By taking the time to learn something new, you’ve given yourself a bat and a shot at achieving your goals.

More than ever, today’s business owners are looking to learn something new in order to give their companies the edge they need to succeed. For instance, Patrick Glynn, the owner of Chicago’s Paujax Steel Erectors, a structural steel company, has found that learning how to master new technology in his field has increased his business’s profits. “Computers and printers have had a huge effect on where we’re going as a company,” Glynn says. “For example, copying hand-drawn paper blueprints through ammonia one copy at a time are in the days of the past. This start-to-finish process took about three weeks. Our plotters have now been replaced with a gigantic laser printer, and I am able to send copies to anywhere in the world via e-mail with a push of a button. Now the turnaround time is only days. With the new printers, there are more opportunities to get bids out, which translates into higher percentages of job opportunities.”
Glynn also emphasizes the importance of a good staff. “Keeping them up to date with learning avenues ensures them greater success at their jobs. Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills, Illinois is an avenue I took to certify all my workers to make sure they stayed sharp. Although there are many things involved in running a successful business, keeping up with new technology and ensuring continuing education for my staff always allowed me to stay competitive in a business I love.”

Continuing Education

As Glynn learned, one of the best ways to learn something new for your business is to use one of the many continuing education programs available. These allow people who are already in the workforce to gain or improve work-related skills. High schools, community colleges, universities, trade or professional societies, and seminars all provide continuing education programs. Many offer night and weekend programs, which conveniently accommodate the Monday through Friday worker. During the last decade, the number of continuing education programs available rose dramatically, as did the number of adults enrolled in such programs. In 1990, there were only 25 universities that offered industry-driven certificate programs. By 1997, there were more than 50, and, according to the National University Continuing Education Association, the number of people enrolled in university continuing-education programs had grown to 76 million.

Schools occasionally team up with businesses and organizations to offer specialized industry education programs. Additionally, a variety of companies provide their own courses, ranging from workshops and seminars to full-fledged college credit curricula. A business owner offering such courses can ensure that his or her business has a steady supply of qualified workers.

The Internet has also made it easier for professionals to gain additional skills by allowing them to learn at home at their leisure. Universities and organizations such as the University of Phoenix have created Internet classrooms or websites that provide instruction in a variety of fields. In addition, many schools provide training programs and facilities for tradesmen such as carpenters, electricians, cleaning companies, and auto repair professionals. These classes provide both the latest information on common trades and important advice on how to start and manage a business.

Cross Training

Learning something new doesn’t have to be costly; the best classroom is sometimes your own office. For instance, you could cross train employees. Cross training can be done in two different ways. One way is to train an employee to do a different part of the organization’s work, such as training worker A to do worker B’s job and vice versa. The other way to cross train employees is to select a couple of employees to attend workshops or seminars and have those employees come back to your business and share the information with the rest of the company. Through cross training, you can increase your company’s efficiency by teaching more than one person to do a certain task. For instance, if one essential employee happens to be absent for a day, successful cross training will allow another worker to step in and take his or her place. In the process, your employees will learn additional skills, making them more valuable to your company and themselves. In addition, they’ll also get a break from the routine of their normal jobs. Cross training could also be used to serve as a warning to poorly performing employees or managers. After being temporarily moved to another position, they might feel slightly pressured to perform better and they’ll return to their normal positions as exceptional employees.

The resolution to learn something new for your business may be the easiest resolution that you make this year. In your free time, browse through your favorite magazines so you can learn about developments in your industry. Watch video tutorials on TV or on Internet sites such as YouTube. Take the time to browse through a how-to site on the Internet. At the very least, read a book. Even though your goals may seem far away, remember to grab the biggest bat you can find and don’t be afraid to swing for the fences.

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Reader Comments

Wednesday, April 9, 2008 at 2:37 PM
alan p says:
very interesting article
Monday, January 14, 2008 at 4:46 PM
John P. says:
This was one of my favorite articles in this magazine, if fact it actually inspired me to give a little back to my employees. I thought it was a very interesting analogy in the beginning of the article. I usually don't read all the way through but it caught my attention. In the future i look forward to reading more of Mickey's work.

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