Lifelong learning Featured

7:00pm EDT December 31, 2006

Lifelong learning used to be a concept that most people believed was reserved for just a privileged few who had the time and money to devote to exploring their passions or learning new skills. But times have changed and lifelong learning is now considered a necessity for any working adult to remain competitive in today’s job market.

Jobs that were historically considered to be “safe” are disappearing, so many working adults are finding that they need to learn new skills to take advantage of today’s hottest jobs, according to Jim Brodzinski, Ph.D., SPHR and a professor and chair of the Department of Business Administration and director of the Master of Science in Organizational Leadership program at the College of Mount St. Joseph. “Lifelong learning is simply a mindset that today’s successful employees must take on as part of taking full responsibility for their own careers,” he says. “Employees can no longer expect employers to guide them.”

Smart Business spoke with Brodzinski about lifelong learning and why it’s essential that today’s employees seek opportunities to learn new skills throughout their careers.

What changes are occurring in the job market that will have an impact on career choices and changes?

There’s volatility in the job market as more and more jobs are being outsourced and the industrial sector continues to shrink. A lot of people who were in what were generally considered safe jobs are now finding themselves looking for work, and they are having difficulty finding comparable work because those jobs simply don’t exist anymore.

The overwhelming growth area is now in the services industry. The Bureau of Labor predicts an increase of 21 million jobs in the U.S. by 2012. The vast majority of those will be service jobs, primarily in the areas of health care, government and hospitality. While this poses some interesting opportunities for job-seekers, it will require many to learn new skills.

Why are lifelong learning skills important?

The average person changes his or her career at least five times during a lifetime, but perhaps the most important reason is technology. The divide between people who have technology skills and those who don’t is increasing as technology skills become more important in the workplace.

How have higher education institutions changed to accommodate lifelong learning?

The old education model was teacher-centered, meaning students would learn information from their teachers. The big shift has been to a learner-centered model with the goal of engaging the students in their own education. It’s really a switch from a passive education model to an active model where the students are provided an environment to explore and take responsibility for their own education.

In this model, students are given problems or situations and must work to find their own solutions, rather than simply have an answer provided by the teacher. As part of this model, co-op experiences are becoming more popular, giving students a chance to put their knowledge to use in an actual work situation. We’re also seeing new opportunities like networking workshops to help students learn how to develop social and professional networks. And, of course, the growth in online courses has allowed people to fully take advantage of lifelong learning in a more convenient and accessible format.

What skills do individuals need to become effective lifelong learners?

Today’s employees need to take responsibility for their own careers and take on a mindset that the job they’re in may not last so they have to continue to upgrade their knowledge. At its most basic level, it’s essential to at least understand where your industry is going.

Improving technology skills is essential, but it’s also important to learn transferable skills like planning, critical thinking and creativity. It’s hard to teach a course on those things, but you can build those skills by going through a formal education process. Just the act of continually educating yourself gives you these skills. Try branching out into an unfamiliar area with the idea of increasing the breadth of your knowledge, not the depth.

Employees should keep in mind that communication is the number one requested skill by employers, so anything they can do to improve their ability to speak and write effectively is also a plus.

JIM BRODZINSKI, Ph.D., SPHR is a professor and chair of the Department of Business Administration and director of the Master of Science in Organizational Leadership program at the College of Mount St. Joseph. Reach him at jim_brodzinski@mail.msj.edu or (513) 244-4918.