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It wasn’t long ago that an individual went to school, got an education, and embarked on one career that usually lasted a lifetime. Many companies provided on-the-job training, and little thought was given to “going back to school.” It was common to be asked in a job interview where you saw yourself in five or ten years. Many people fresh out of school could see a fairly predictable career track ahead.
In contrast, today’s working world is far different. Trying to keep up with rapid change is challenging enough, let alone trying to figure out the future of five or ten years hence. Technological changes are redefining some jobs and may make others obsolete. On the other hand, ten years from now, an individual may find him or herself in a job that doesn’t yet exist! The bottom line is that to stay employed and employable (either as an employee or independent contractor), almost everyone will need to continually upgrade his or her skills.
The more you can do in a rapidly changing, information-based economy, the more attractive you will be to prospective employers. However, personal growth and development carries a price tag. While some companies might provide, and may even pay for, some forms of training, it may be unrealistic to think employers will bear the entire burden for skill development. Just as more and more workers are being called upon to assume responsibility for funding their own retirements (by virtue of the shift away from defined benefit plans toward defined contribution plans), more workers may have to contribute to their own long-term career development.
The first step toward the ideal of long-term career development is to change the current mindset about education. Rather than seeing education as something over and done with after college, it is becoming increasingly necessary to view education as a process that occurs on an ongoing basis. It is beginning to appear that success in the 21st century workworld may require workers to think of themselves as sponges with unlimited abilities to “soak up” new information.
It may help to think of “investing” in personal growth and development as analogous 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 will lead to new products and more customers, individuals should consider setting aside a portion of their incomes to engage in activities (e.g., course work, advanced degrees, professional or trade meetings, relocation for a better opportunity in another city) that will enhance their job skills and expand their earning capacity.
Consequently, 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 that responsibility. You’ll also be demonstrating to others that you are committed to improving your skills, able to keep up with change, and willing “to go the extra mile.”