Photo Credit: Max Brennan, Creative Commons/Flickr

More than professional development

The new world of work requires us to learn and unlearn. Two articles this past week drove this message home:

Mind the skills gap, Harvard Business Review:

“A bachelor’s degree used to provide enough basic training to last a career. Yet today, the skills college graduates acquire during college have an expected shelf life of only five years according to extensive work we’ve done in conjunction with Deloitte’s Shift Index. The key takeaway? The lessons learned in school can become outdated long before student loans are paid off.

And it’s not only white-collar, college-driven careers that will suffer rapid skills obsolescence. Think of how new metering systems and motion sensors suddenly require highly technical skills from contractors, plumbers and electricians. Or how welders working on wind turbines now need specialized degrees and the ability to read CAD blueprints or LEED certification requirements.

Today, individuals must constantly hone and enhance their skills to remain relevant in the workforce. As a society, we must figure out how to rapidly re-skill vast number of people on an ongoing basis to both remain relevant globally and to avoid long periods of high unemployment. Adapting to this cycle of obsolescence is perhaps America’s biggest challenge in staying competitive.”

To stay relevant in a career, workers train non-stop, New York Times

“The need to constantly adapt is the new reality for many workers, well beyond the information technology business. Car mechanics, librarians, doctors, Hollywood special effects designers — virtually everyone whose job is touched by computing — are being forced to find new, more efficient ways to learn as retooling becomes increasingly important not just to change careers, but simply to stay competitive on their chosen path.

Going back to school for months or years is not realistic for many workers, who are often left to figure out for themselves what new skills will make them more valuable, or just keep them from obsolescence. In their quest to occupy a useful niche, they are turning to bite-size instructional videos, peer-to-peer forums and virtual college courses.

Lynda Gratton, a professor of management practice at the London Business School, has coined a term for this necessity: “serial mastery.”

So what can YOU do to make learning a priority?

Create a system for reading, sharing, and engaging information in your field

Even if you are just starting to expose yourself to new information, there is no need to subscribe to every single blog, website, etc in your field. Carefully select what you want to read based on: who provides current information; questions/challenges you often encounter; and your work interests. Additionally, instead of passively consuming, share this information with people in your network and respond to what you read.

Use your skills in new contexts

This can take many forms: starting a blog to analyze trends in your field or volunteering at a different organization. At my previous job, I would meet up with a group of friends who did similar work at different organizations; we’d discuss challenges we were facing at work and try to help each other out as well as share resources and news. The purpose of working in new contexts is to force ourselves to use our skills in diverse ways to tackle problems.

When working ask yourself “What problem am I solving?”

Not in terms of your organization’s mission, but your work within the organization and your field as a whole. For example, as a fundraiser, what problem are you solving at your organization and for your cause?  Asking this keeps you focused on providing solutions and helps you see opportunities where you can provide help and strengthen your expertise.

Here are a few other resources you might be interested in:

How are you making learning a priority?