The Joy of Life Long Learning

Entering the new decade is an opportunity to reflect on how we have arrived at where we are today. I’m not about to address any of the great political, social or environmental topics of the day, rather I’ll confine my few simple notes to our own local pitch, which is continuous improvement services to Irish organisations. I am reflecting on how demand for education and training in formal continuous improvement (CI) techniques has evolved over the decade 2010 to 2019.

In terms of service provision, the number of third level and online services offering CI education and training has simply exploded. University of Limerick (UL), and the Cork, Sligo and Waterford Institutes of Technology led the way in introducing lean six sigma courses at third level. Now lean and six sigma techniques are taught on undergraduate courses in third level institutes throughout the country. Many post graduate programmes are also available for graduates and mature students alike. Some of the institutes, such as UL and Sligo IT offer distance learning courses, which greatly assist those short of time or who find it difficult to travel to lectures.

The proliferation of international online learning channels allows an ‘anyone, anywhere, anytime’ freedom to learn. There is a course for everyone and to suit every pocket. It’s a case of being wary when buying online, however many reputable and high calibre services exist. I would encourage anyone interested to seek out a solution that suits them.

The demand for the Lean Ireland lean six sigma tutorial service has increased in 2019. This is a bespoke service where the tutorials are specifically designed to educate the participant in a particular topic or topics. Recently the age profile of those requesting our lean six sigma tutorial services is in the more mature (35+) age bracket, and the participants are typically in senior positions in their organisations. I was first introduced to online tutorial services when working as a tutor on UL’s Supply Chain Management distance learning programme in 2013. That was a one-to-many relationship as the students were located all over the world. Again, they were all mature students holding down busy jobs. UL has recently extended significantly its range of part-time and distance learning and online lean six sigma courses.

Zeitgeist or ‘the spirit of the times’ is always a result of many factors coming together to create a shared movement to influence growth in a set of beliefs or systems. What has sparked this specific hunger for CI lifelong learning? It must be a pretty strong motivator as it isn’t easy to hold down a job, devote yourself to your family and loved ones, and find time for yourself in an already busy life. Perhaps a cause and effects (fishbone) diagram might show the following factors?

The American Multinationals: Ever since lean and six sigma landed on Irish shores in the early 90’s, via the American multinationals dotted around the country, the pool of users and certified practitioners in the country has increased every year. Their knowledge, and demonstrated problem solving and leadership capability, has had a beneficial influence on colleagues and on businesses set up by ex-multinational employees.

Enterprise Ireland and IDA grant aided programmes: Some years ago, Enterprise Ireland started offering grant aid to Irish companies to support lean implementation. The number of small and medium firms benefiting for lean support has grown and the IDA followed Enterprise Ireland’s example, focusing on it’s small business base. Since 2017 the cross sectoral network that is Lean Business Ireland, and which involves state bodies, continues to promote the idea that Ireland can become a centre for lean excellence.

Peer pressure & employee pressure: No one wants to be the only one who doesn’t get the joke. As lean and six sigma techniques are so well grounded in observation, data and teamwork, it’s hard to bluff your way through process problem solving when you’re surrounded by more capable people. It may be desirable that your boss knows more than you do, but when your employees are more capable, then it simply becomes embarrassing. There’s no doubt that a certain amount of the desire to learn comes from fear of being seen to be less capable than your peers.

Promotion: As an extension of the idea of peer pressure, many are seeking knowledge such that they can progress in their careers. They realise that a formal grounding in CI philosophies and techniques builds both problem-solving and leadership capability. For example, in my own experience, many of the green belts we trained back in the early 2000’s are now on the senior teams of multinational corporations. This progression is not lost on those with ambitions to succeed.

Hunger for Learning: Finally, we come to our own natural curiosity about life. Every day is a learning day. Many who undertake formal CI learning do so because they simply want to learn to be better at their jobs, and to be a better colleague. The most inspiring lifelong learner for me in the past decade has to be Tom Boyle who graduated in 2018 at the ripe old age of 82 years, from WIT with a Bachelor of Arts degree. ‘The craic was mighty’ he said. So there! What are you waiting for? Sign up for that lean six sigma course today!

© Bernie Rushe, BSc, CPIM, Dip SA, MSc, Black Belt, +353-87-2837810

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