Lifelong Learning Your Key to Employability

In today’s business climate, no one’s job is completely secure. While your specific job may be necessary today, that does not mean it will be necessary tomorrow. As the future workplace continues to evolve, many employees who don’t consistently update their skills and industry knowledge often find themselves out of a job. This doesn’t have to happen to you. When you take the steps to understand and anticipate future and industry trends that could ultimately change the nature of your job, you take the first step to lifelong learning.

The fact is that jobs in almost every industry are being totally revamped in order for organizations to remain competitive. Are you aware of the trends, ideas, innovations and advancements in your field that might bring about serious change in your organization this year? In five years? How will these trends affect your job? What is your future going to look like? If you want to stay employed, you must know what will be expected of you down the road. What skills do you have that will be obsolete? What skills will be needed that you don’t have yet?

All the knowledge we have today will represent only 1% of the knowledge that will be available in 2050. In other words, we can never stop learning. There will always be more to know. And the more you know, the better chance you have of staying employed. How have you responded to technological changes, as well as all of the other changes that are going on in the workplace? Do you accept new responsibilities and challenges and see them as opportunities to increase your value to your employer? Before you get left behind with inadequate skills, use the following suggestions to help you identify ways to enhance your current skills.

1. Identify Skills that are of Value to Your Company
To assess your value to your organization, you must be aware of the skills you possess that help make you a valuable employee. Analyzing your skills objectively is the place to start. First, determine what you are good at doing and then take an honest look at how many other employees in your department or your organization possess the same or similar skills. Some organizations place a high value on specialists who are very good at one thing, while others value more generalized knowledge across a wider spectrum. To remain employable, it’s important to know where your organization places greater emphasis. If you are not aware of your strengths and their value to your organization, it is probable that you aren’t using them to their greatest advantage. Even if you are aware of your strengths, start expanding your level of expertise and learn new skills to increase your value.

In addition to self-assessment, it’s important to also get feedback from your manager or supervisor. When asking for an evaluation, perception is the name of the game. You can have all the right motives, justify your behavior, and defend your attitude to the hilt. However, if your boss, co-workers, colleagues, and customers perceive you as apathetic, irritable, argumentative, or impatient, then that is their reality. You need to address their comments not by tirelessly defending your actions, but by working to understand what it is you say and do that creates this perception in other people’s minds. While it takes great confidence, even courage, to ask for honest feedback, it’s the first step to assessing your skills and seeing where you need to make improvement.

2. Keep Your Skills Up to Date
Even if your skills are of current value to your organization, you must be prepared for the future. The vast majority of people who lost their jobs due to downsizing or cutbacks revealed that they knew of the possibility that their jobs might be eliminated-even months in advance. Nevertheless, they did not go back to school, network, or train for another job in their own organization, or look into the possibilities of other employment or of starting their own business. Most did not even have an updated resume when they received the bad news. What about you? Are you preparing for the possibility that your job many be eliminated in the future?

What new skills do you need to acquire, and which of your current skills need enhancement? Perhaps you could develop your computer skills, enroll in a class or attend a seminar, learn better people skills, become a better problem solver, or improve your writing skills. The list of possibilities is endless. Most people, however, are working longer hours than ever before and the thought of going back to school at night or taking a class on the weekend may be something you don’t want to think about. But the thought of being unemployed may be even more staggering.

Once you determine the skills you need, arrange to get that training in a way that is the least disruptive to your life. You’ll find that there is a wide variety of options to meet your training and educational needs. An additional benefit is the opportunity to meet and learn from other people if you will only step outside your comfort zone to get to know them at training sessions and workshops. It’s amazing that in today’s rapidly changing job market there are still employees who feel that they have no need to learn anything new. This is not the time to demonstrate a lack of interest in learning anything new-not when a commitment to learning is so necessary in order to stay employed.

3. Find a Mentor and Learn from a Pro
A mentor is a wise and trusted teacher or guide who can help to ensure your future employability. Having a mentor is another way to sharpen your skills and acquire new ones. You may have thought that someone you admire is far too busy to have time for you. In fact, many people are willing to share their knowledge and experience with those who want to learn.

Unfortunately, many employees never ask for help or advice. They believe that asking for help will pinpoint them as being inept at their job. Nothing could be further from the truth. When you seek help from a mentor, you show that you want to discuss ideas, support others, and work as a team. It shows upper management that you take your job seriously and want to continually improve.

Many employees find mentors in their own organizations who contribute to the success of their careers. No matter what field you’re in or how much you know, there are people who can teach you something more. Make sure you take advantage of any opportunities you have to learn from the pros in your business or profession. It’s an important part of your commitment to lifelong learning.

The Final Steps
Above all else, be sure to stay current with all industry trends. You can do this by reading professional magazines and trade journals that relate to your business. In addition to reading, network, ask questions, and attend in-service training programs to determine how you fit into the big picture. If you don’t see your job as a part of that big picture-as part of the future of your business and your organization-learn what you can do to change that. Make sure you join business associations and attend conferences. They provide the opportunity to meet your competition firsthand, see what the latest trends are, and make new friends.

Granted, committing to lifelong learning requires time and dedication. And while you may think you don’t have the time to implement all these ideas, if you want to stay employed, you need to make the time for lifelong learning. It’s the only way to ensure lifelong employment.

Chicago CIO and Entrepreneur. Started @Orbitz, @AssureFlight, Team ITG, YourPrivateLine and others. I Love technology, startups and meeting interesting people.

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