Becoming a portfolio person – article 1996

Becoming a Portfolio Person – Learning to learn

This is an article that first appeared in the UK teleworker magazine April/May 1996.

Peter Cox is managing director of TMPL Training, which provides training to organisations in the public and private sector and to charities. TMPL are developing telematic support of training. The Company’s consultants are teleworkers.

In the olden days – well, when I went to school – learning seemed a finite requirement. You went to school. If you were bright and fortunate you went to university, or, as in my case, to college whilst working. Skills were picked up at work, either by good design or by accident. And with luck you progressed.

It’s different now. Skills requirements have changed. We need to learn about things that were not invented when we were at school: the computer I am typing on, and the email system that will deliver this article are just two examples. And society’s work patterns have changed too. No longer is there a job for life, we need to be ‘portfolio people’ – more about which later.

Many of us have adapted our work pattern to be teleworkers in some form or another. We no longer necessarily go to an office every day – reducing the opportunities for learning from observation. We may not even meet our professional counterparts, dealing exclusively on the telephone, by email, by video-conferencing. In this isolation we may not even know what new skills our colleagues (if we have any), clients and customers need us to have.

In this series of articles I’ll be looking at the need for continuous learning and the particular difficulties that this presents to those of us who work telematically. To start I want to share some experiences and help you develop a plan for learning. In later articles we’ll look in detail at the impact that technology can make on helping us to learn.

First the basics: what do I know? and what do I need to know?

As a trainer I often carry out skills audits or a training needs analysis for clients. But how often do I review my own training needs? Do you review yours? Most of us do not, certainly not on a continuing basis.

I became very aware of this when helping candidates for management NVQs where a personal development plan is a requirement. If it’s needed for that, I thought, it ought to be a requirement for me as a trainer – which, of course, it is. As teleworkers though, this is difficult to do. Often we have no colleagues to measure ourselves against – a common way of determining our personal strengths and weaknesses.

You could take time out here to do a Myers Briggs Type Indicator – online via the Internet. So we have to assess ourselves, and plan our development, on our own. Here’s one way to start to do this.

Take two sheets of paper. Head one “Twenty things I am good at” and head the other “Thirty things I can do”. Then fill them in. What is ‘good’ is defined by you.

Most people find this exercise difficult, at least to begin with. Don’t just think about work: what do you do when on holiday? what do you say at a party when someone asks you what your interests are? do you manage a household – what skills does this involve?

Think about things in detail. If you telework you almost certainly have ‘computing skills’. But which of these are you ‘good’ at? Wordprocessing, perhaps. Designing booklets? Creating databases? Have you skills in maintaining the equipment – changing a broken part, replacing the toner in a printer, configuring a modem? Perhaps you have helped install a small network, or have added a client to an existing one.

These are all attributes/skills in their own right – not just part of ‘computing’. And if you are not yet ‘good’ at some of these things, but have done them a bit, are they on your ‘can do’ list? When you get stuck, leave the lists and return to them. You’ll be surprised at how many more things you can add.

Now rank your ‘good at’ list from 1 (very best at) to however many down. Then consider whether any of these skills need further development. Then consider your ‘can do’s’. Which of them might be targeted for action, either for personal reasons (I am learning Welsh), or for work (I did a course on ISDN telecommunications). At this point you may want to write all your training/learning ideas into a new list. It’s probably quite long!

See if you can rank your list into groups: Must do, Should do, Could do. Ask: what are you likely to achieve, in what time scale, and how will you know if you have done it? Be brutal with yourself – but also be willing to stretch yourself. Just because you’ve never been good at languages doesn’t mean you cannot learn Welsh, to take my example. Consider too, how your final portfolio of skills might look in, say, two years time. Is it balanced? Will it help your business/career? Is it what you want to be?

Now, and only now, start to consider how you are going to learn. How much time do you have? When MUST something be achieved? How much money can you afford? What support can you get from your partner, friends, work colleagues?

We all have different learning preferences. You might like to look at some of Peter Honey’s publications about how we learn.

You need to spend time thinking about your own learning styles. Are you comfortable with reading, thinking about abstract concepts which you then apply? Do you do something first, then read the manual? Do you like to take things in well-defined chunks, practising each one before moving on?

What have most successfully learnt? Was it a subject at school, a new skill at work, or a recent hobby? How did you learn – in a classroom, from a book, with a friend? With these sorts of questions you will begin to identify a successful route to newskills for yourself. You might find it helpful to read about Learning Styles and preferences.

Of course, there are also more ways of learning now. Interactive, multi-media on your computer. Structured lessons on the Internet. Distance learning supported by organisations like the Open University. Drop-in courses at a College for those near one. Even distance MBA and first degree courses.

In the next article we’ll look at some of the learning options available. We’ll start to plan our time to prioritise and acquire all those the skills and experience we have identified we need to become a portfolio person.