While it’s been over 20 years since I graduated from university, September still brings that back-to-school vibe with it. It makes me want to buy a fresh notebook and start digging into an exciting new subject.

We’ve got education on the brain here at Plank, as we spent our summer not-vacation collaborating with three universities on a number of different projects - you can read about that work here. It’s gotten me thinking about how we encourage learning and skill development in the workplace, once we've left university behind. 

Learning to Learn

My university experience shaped my life a great deal. It’s where I finally found a way to mesh my creative side with my technical side in the burgeoning field of “multimedia” design in Concordia’s Communication Studies Program. But I also learned a lot about how to learn.

I learned to follow my curiosity, and explore new directions independently. I learned how to actually work with my peers collaboratively - and how that differs from friendship. I developed a solid work ethic and, thanks to a lot of great professors, I really came to value education in a way that I hadn’t before.

Learning on the Job

Operating in an industry that is constantly in a state of change, Plank also needs to keep advancing and evolving. That means keeping our skills up to date as a team, and constantly learning new tools and techniques. We’ve worked to build constant learning into the company DNA. Like artisans, we need to hone our craft and get better at it every day.

We’re an intentionally small company, so advancement at Plank isn’t about moving up the corporate ladder. Rather, it’s about improving your skills and expertise, and becoming a resource for others. It makes us stronger as a company and smarter as a team.

How we Keep Learning

We encourage on-the-job learning in a few different ways. 

  1. We offer training opportunities for improving or developing new skills. We have accounts with Lynda.com and Laracasts.com that get a good bit of use from the team. We also keep a good library of books and ebooks for reference.
  2. We send everyone to a conference of their choosing each year. We also ask that person to share their experience with the rest of a team, either by writing about it for the journal, or an informal presentation in the office.
  3. We arrange the occasional Lunch and Learn for a team member to share a new process or tool they’ve discovered with the rest of the group.
  4. We welcome students. Many college and university programs have a work term requirement, and we take on students several times a year. We make sure that we have something we can teach them that fits in with their educational interests and career goals. More often than not, we also find ourselves learning a few things from them along the way.

A Personal Passion

I believe that an educated society is a more thoughtful and empathetic society. I’m personally a lover of the long-read, and reading is the number one way that I unwind. I’ve read the Economist weekly since 2001, and maintain an RSS feed of sites with interesting and engaging articles.

I love to read about things I don’t need to know about, but that get me thinking in different directions. It’s easy to get caught up in the steady stream of listicles taking over the internet, but there are a lot of great places online to feed your mind, too. I personally love Longreads as a place to start. And believe it or not, one of my favourite articles - about the Montreal Melon - actually came from Buzzfeed. Who knew?

What to Learn Next?

All this reading has made me really want to improve my own writing. It’s a big part of my job, and I have a habit of rushing through it to get onto the next task. So this year, I’ve been reading a few books on writing, and slowly putting their advice into practice.  

Like any skill, it takes practice and dedication to develop. I’m not sure I’m a much better writer yet, but I’m approaching the task with more purpose and awareness, and that’s a good start.

Happy Learning!

So what about you? What are you excited to learn about next? Whatever it is, I wish you every success.

Thoughts