During uncertain times, education has been a persistent and powerful tool for our individual and collective ability to manage change and foster growth. The current economic landscape is increasingly dynamic and intricate, from shifting demographics to the acceleration of automation and technology. This intensifies the link between lifelong learning, or purposeful upskilling and reskilling throughout one's career, and your professional resiliency.
With medical advances and increased standards of living, people worldwide are living longer than ever. For the first time in history, children in the Western world now have a 50% chance of living to be 100+ years old.
This lengthening lifespan can naturally translate to more jobs over one's lifetime, but that trend is also being driven by generational shifts. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported a downward change in tenure for nearly 10 years with workers now averaging out at 4.4 years. With Millennials, who are now the largest working generation and represent 35% of the workforce, and those younger it is substanitally less.
"These shifts in life expectancy and job mobility combined with accelerated technological development are drastically changing the parameters of our workforce," says Nelson Baker, dean at Georgia Tech Professional Education.
"Continued investment in reskilling and upskilling is essential for employees and employers alike to manage these increased workforce shifts and disruptions."
A survey of global workers showed that 41% of workers, across all industries, were considering quitting or changing professions this year. In the U.S. alone, there were more than six million who people quit their jobs in a month, the biggest spike on record and continuing a streak of historically elevated transition. Other reports suggest that we are reaching an era of full employment where those who want a job, have one.
The Great Resignation has proven that the workforce is unafraid to question the value of its relationship with employers and that the connection isn't as transactional as in the past. While compensation and benefits remain important aspects, a recent survey by LinkedIn of job seekers revealed that work-life balance, or perhaps even a life-first viewpoint, has moved to the number one spot. Other important elements were flexibility, mental health and wellbeing, and diversity and inclusion.
As employees' expectations change, lifelong learning can play an integral role in helping them integrate more deeply into the workplace. The 2022 LinkedIn Global Talent Trends Report also finds that employees believe professional development is the number-one way to improve company culture. A recent survey suggests that 80% of post-pandemic employees are concerned about their careers and 72% are rethinking their skill sets.
If companies invest in lifelong learning options and advocate for the personal and professional development of their teams, it could help with employee retention.
A solid, thoughtful approach to professional development as a workplace benefit goes well beyond just retention, however. A recent McKinsey Global Survey uncovered that skill-building is the best way to close talent shortage gaps across all industries – even more than hiring, contracting, or redeploying employees.
The technological landscape refreshes itself with new innovations and updates faster than many can adjust, producing high demand for workers to fill roles that barely existed five (or even two) years ago.
"Covid-19 has shown how quickly the economic landscape can shift with the sudden need for vaccine development and resulting supply chain innovation," says Baker. "But other known disrupters like automation and machine learning were already looming on the horizon."
While the World Economic Forum says that the shift to automation might mean the loss of some 75 million jobs, it also estimates that there’ll be 133 million new jobs created as a direct consequence of the added machine workforce.
Because technology will continue to experience rapid expansion and cause high demand for workers with technical skills, this reality will most certainly give rise to new, in-demand emerging fields that reflect the needs of the future. In fact, it is estimated that 85% of jobs that will exist in the next decade haven’t even been invented yet.
Although technical expertise is needed, it is important to not neglect human and social skills. Expanding your professional development to include increasing your ability and acumen about learning itself is increasingly essential to promote resilience and prepare for tomorrow's workforce. The ability to adapt and reskill on the field has never been more imperative.
"As innovation requires workforces to embrace and become comfortable with rapid change, the demand for an industry-aligned, blended set of technical and human skills is high," says Baker.
"To keep pace with the demands of various industries, it is imperative that educational institutions ensure that their lifelong learning opportunities are continuously listening to the needs of the learner, thus high-quality, flexible, affordable, and meet the needs of working professionals and the industries that push them to grow."
The future of work is now and requires one to be an adaptable, quick learner to avoid falling behind. As a working professional, developing a lifelong learning mindset can help you build the resilience needed to navigate this rapid evolution and meet the challenges and demands head-on.