It wasn’t long ago when an individual went to college, got an education, and embarked on one career that usually lasted a lifetime. Many companies provided on-the-job training, and little emphasis was put on the idea of going back to school to continually upgrade your skills or change careers. During a job interview, it was common to be asked where you saw yourself in five or 10 years. Many new graduates could see a fairly predictable career track ahead.
By contrast, today’s workplace environment and economic climate are very different. Trying to keep up with constant change and global competition is challenging enough, let alone trying to project where you will be careerwise, and what job you will be in five or 10 years from now. Rapid technological changes are redefining many types of jobs and may eventually make some jobs obsolete.
On the other hand, new careers with plenty of jobs may open up in certain industries over the next decade. New fields, such as green technology, are quickly emerging. To maintain current employment and improve opportunities to land job offers in an unpredictable market, many workers and independent contractors will need to enhance and upgrade their skills regularly.
In an information-based culture, the more technolgical skills you have, the more attractive you may be to prospective employers. However, personal growth and development carry a price tag. While some companies provide certain forms of training, it may be unrealistic to think employers will bear the entire cost of talent development. As workers must now assume the responsibility for funding their own retirements through the shift from workplace defined benefit plans toward defined contribution plans, many also have to fund their own long-term career development.
Changing the Mindset
The first step toward career development for the long term is to keep an open mind about continuing education. Rather than thinking of education as something that is over and done with after college graduation, you may have to look at education as an ongoing process. Professional success in the 21st century may require workers to become “sponges” with the unlimited ability to “soak up” new information and apply it quickly on the job.
It may help to think of “investing” in personal growth and development as akin to the business practice of investing in research and development (R&D). Just as businesses set aside a portion of their revenues to fund R&D that may lead to new products and more customers, consider setting aside a portion of your income to pursue activities (e.g., coursework, advanced degrees, professional or trade meetings, or relocation for a better work opportunity) that may enhance your job skills, career satisfaction, and earning capacity.
The best investment you might ever make is to begin setting aside funds for your continuing education. In the process, you’ll be reinforcing the sense of responsibility required to control your own destiny and developing the resources necessary to carry out your vision for the future. You’ll also be demonstrating to others, including your employer or other potential employers, that you are committed to improving your skills, receptive to change, and willing “to go the extra mile” to pursue professional success.