The importance of continuous learning

The sad and unfortunate truth is that the majority of Americans, once they finish their education (whatever level that is – high school, associate’s degree, bachelor’s, master’s, PhD.), never read another meaningful book. That’s right – never. As they go through each year then, they become more and more perfectly prepared … for a world that no longer exists!

Not only the world, but also your industry in particular, is changing at a more and more rapid pace each day. If you are not reading and learning and growing, you are getting left behind. What is even worse is that as you are not growing and getting better, your competition has either passed you by or is about to!

This suggests the following questions:
• What are you doing to get better as an individual and a leader?
• What are you doing to make your organization better?
• What are you currently reading?
• What CDs, Podcasts, etc. are you listening to for growth?
• What seminars and trainings have you attended in the last three months?

In essence, what are you doing to prepare yourself and your organization for the future? Tough to look in the mirror sometimes, isn’t it?

The most successful business leaders tell us that we need to keep ourselves in a state of continuous learning. That means you and I need to do something every day to make ourselves better, smarter and more prepared for the future than the day before. If we fail to do this, each day we go to work and do the same thing in the same way we did yesterday, we are just one day older and no closer to the goals that we do not have.

That’s because anyone with specific and clearly defined goals knows they must be and do better than they have in the past to be, do and have more in the future. The only way to be and do better is to learn more than we knew yesterday. Best way to do that – continuous learning.

My team at the BBB does not know this yet, but during the month of June, I am going to give them 15 minutes every workday to read something that will make them a better person, employee, and team member. During the month at our Team Meetings, I am going to have them share about the experience and what they have gained and learned.

The average American worker watches between two and four hours of television each day. What would happen if they took just one of those hours and invested it in themselves – in some type of personal development? I will guarantee you the results would be incredible! Continuous learning is one of the keys to becoming a more successful individual and professional.

This lesson was brought home to me at one of our quarterly Lunch and Learns where local professionals come to hear a one-hour training on some topic that will make them and their companies better. Guess who was there: two of our 2015 Torch Award winners and two of our 2016 Torch Award winners. Lilton Sonnier, head of Winnie Welding Works and 2005 Torch Award winner, a successful business owner for 70 years, came to learn more about customer service – at the young age of 97!

These folks are investing in themselves when many others would be asking, “What’s the point? You’re already successful!” They would all quickly answer, “The reason we are successful is because we take the time to invest in ourselves and our companies. The only way we are going to be successful in the future is to continue doing so. What we did or accomplished in utlays and (especially) lost productivity and efficiency. There has been some progress given additional funds allocated during recent legislative sessions, but $5 billion per year simply won’t cut it given growing needs and miles of roadways.

Employee benefits approach $8 billion per year, including sizable outlays for retirement programs. Like many states, Texas is facing a substantial unfunded pension problem. Many state employees have “defined benefit” retirement plans, meaning that their benefits are based on some set criteria (such as years of service and salary level) rather than amounts they have contributed. It is crucial to ensure we are setting enough money aside to deal with these obligations in the future.

Salaries and wages for state employees topped $11 billion in 2015. Nearly $6 billion went to permanent, full-time state employees, and more than $4 billion went to higher education salaries including faculty and staff.

A category called “interfund transfers” accounts for $20 billion per year, but it’s mainly a pass-through account for various retirement funds (such as the Teacher Retirement System) and sales tax allocations.

More than $25 billion in 2015 went to public education through the foundation program and grants to elementary and secondary schools, with another billion for junior colleges. Even so, Texas remains near the bottom in terms of per student spending. An analysis by the U.S. Census Bureau ranked Texas near the bottom of all states, with spending well below the U.S. average. The National Education Association placed Texas at number 40 based on spending in K-12 public schools and average daily attendance. While methods, measures and rankings vary, Texas clearly ranks near the bottom in terms of spending in public schools. Quality of education is directly related to individual success in the job market, and workforce preparedness drives the potential for economic growth. Investing in education is essential, and changing demographics increase the need for adequate resources.

The largest spending category is public assistance payments, with $43 billion. Medical services and specialties accounts for $25 billion, with billions more in various other medical categories. Other types of assistance are relatively small, such as grants for community service programs (just over $2 billion) or foster care ($657 million). Much of this amount (and others) comes to the state through federal programs.

Spending by the state has been growing over time, but not enough to keep pace with population and economic expansion. An analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation ranked Texas 47 among all states in terms of per-capita state spending, illustrating the low level of outlays compared to most areas.

While runaway spending is clearly to be avoided, we have fallen critically behind in several areas. Keeping tax burdens low is laudable, but spending more now could avoid bigger problems down the road. In fact, if Texas doesn’t catch up on unfunded pensions, restructure programs in crisis such as foster care and child protective services, improve education at all levels, and make a dent in infrastructure shortcomings, we will almost certainly face higher taxes in the future in order to deal with spiraling problems, not to mention a much less robust economy.

Dr. Ray Perryman is president and CEO of The Perryman Group in Waco.