For some things, like learning to ride a bicycle, most people don’t need much instruction. One-and-done is usually enough.

Imagine, however, if bicycle manufacturers changed basic functionality and added new capabilities every few months. Without regular refresher lessons, no one would ever get anywhere—at least not those who rely on bikes as their sole means of transportation.

Thankfully, bicycle technology doesn’t change very often. But the same cannot be said about workplace technology and business strategy, which change more frequently than ever, especially in the last decade. Microsoft now issues software updates quarterly, and organizations shift their focus even more often. According to research by Deloitte, the average half-life of a learned skill today is just five years.

The workforce is also changing. Millennials, now the majority generation, bring new expectations to the table—they want to work for organizations that provide them with opportunities for development and a sense of purpose. They are also more likely to switch jobs if their expectations aren’t met. Gallup reports that 21 percent of millennials report changing jobs within the last year, which is more than three times the number reported by other generations.

According to research by Deloitte, the average half-life of a learned skill today is just five years

Considering this confluence of factors, it is becoming increasingly clear that the one-and-done training of the past is not sufficient for the present or the future. However, companies have much work to do before they can meet the expectations of today’s employees—and close the widening skills gap. According to a 2016 report by MIT Sloan Management Review, 90 percent of CEOs believe their organization is facing disruptive change from digital technologies, and 70 percent indicate their company does not have the skills to adapt to the change.

To find a solution, according to some experts, organizations and employees need to change how they view education.

A recent Chief Learning Officer article addresses the issue with a recap of a panel discussion featuring Donna Shalala, former U.S. secretary of Health and Human Services and current president of the Clinton Foundation; Austan Goolsbee, a University of Chicago economics professor and former chief economist for President Barack Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board; and Kevin Gilligan, CEO and chairman of Capella Education Co.

The panel discussed a range of solutions, including:

  1. Employees should view education as an ongoing pursuit. If workers want to ensure they remain employable, they must continually add to and enhance their skills throughout their careers.
  2. Employers need to also consider hiring people who do not hold four-year degrees. Alternative learning models, such as competency-based online programs, can enable people to develop skills quickly and affordably.
  3. Companies should begin embracing alternative learning models. “Companies can’t be tethered to traditional expectations for how workers acquire skills, especially in the face of accelerated technological change that can’t be captured in textbooks quickly enough,” the article states.
  4. Finally, organizations need to take a more active role in training the workforce within their communities. For example, they can hire low-skill workers and train them for higher-skill jobs.

There was a time in history when employees rarely needed to learn new or entirely different sets of skills during their careers, but that time is over. Skills are becoming obsolete much more quickly, and the pace will only increase. Organizations and workers that embrace this new way of working will be better equipped for the even bigger changes to come.

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