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The need for lifelong learning in a changing world

24 November 2016

Over the last few decades, the world has changed almost unrecognisably, and this has had a big impact on people’s careers.

It wasn't too long ago that people would finish school or university, get a job, and then spend years, decades or even their whole career in the same place. Those days are largely over.

Nowadays, even five years is a long time in a single job. A 2013 Labour Mobility study by the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed that less than half of working Australians had been in their job for five years - and a full 20 per cent had been working in their current role for less than a year.

Why is this the case? Quite simply, the labour market is far more competitive, the world is more global, technologies are rapidly changing, and dynamic new generations are constantly progressing.

This means that the predictable, 'secure' career is a thing of the past, with the typical professional now needing to constantly adapt and reinvent their skillset in order to keep making progress in their career.

So, how can one get ahead in this competitive landscape? The answer is simple: by developing a thirst for lifelong learning. While learning takes commitment and a considerable investment of time, the payoff is huge. Here’s why:

1. Future-proofing

Learning has become more important than ever before, given that the demand for jobs is highest in the tertiary sector. According to the World Economic Forum, we are on the cusp of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which means that opportunities in the primary and secondary sectors will continue to dwindle, and people will need to adapt even faster in order to future-proof their careers.

2. Competitiveness

When your career is constantly changing direction, learning faster than your competitors gives you a sustainable edge. In addition, organisations recognise that new knowledge helps to drive business success through innovation. The 'half-life' of knowledge is vastly different in a lifelong career than when you are changing jobs more often, so in order to get up to speed, a commitment to learning is crucial.

3. Adaptability

Learning doesn’t just provide new skills and knowledge, but develops a hunger to know even more. A curious mind is armed with everything it needs to keep naturally adapting to the changing world around it. A commitment to personal and professional development will expand your horizons and help you keep up with the rapid pace of change.

4. Technology

Technology not only permeates every aspect of our lives and work, but is constantly changing itself. Falling behind means that your job could be at risk – not just from higher-skilled people but machines as well. The Australian Fair Pay Commission Secretariat found in 2009 that technological change will most benefit high rather than low-skilled workers, meaning that if you’re falling behind now, the disadvantage will exponentially worsen over time.

Luckily, technology is also a friend of lifelong learning. A few decades ago, learning meant taking an evening class or giving up your day job to attend a traditional brick-and-mortar institution. These days, however, acquiring new knowledge is easier than it has ever been.

There are so many options to learn – attending lectures, taking online courses such as the information and knowledge management MBA, watching TED talks, reading books or finding a mentor. The quest for learning will help keep your brain sharp, improve your mental wellbeing, make you more productive and keep your skills current to help your career thrive.