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career, job search, learning

Why continuous learning is critical to your career future

I’m a car enthusiast. As such, I’ve spent an unusual amount of time hanging around auto repair shops (often by circumstance due to the old, crappy European cars I drove; but sometimes by choice).

At one point, I met a guy who had owned his shop for a few decades. He was closing his business, selling of a treasure trove of cool parts and repair equipment. I noted that he didn’t seem to work on any VW/Audi that was less than 20 years old. I asked him why? “Eh, the new stuff is too complex. It requires too many specialized tools and has a ton of electronic crap I don’t want to learn. My business was fine without them…until the last few years, anyway.”

Most people think of automotive technicians as grease monkeys who change oil, rotate tires, and replace greasy engine parts for a living. For anyone working on today’s cars, nothing could be farther than the truth. New cars can have up to 30-40 computers and miles of wiring (some even have fiber-optic networks in an attempt to reduce the amount–and weight–of wiring). Even compact cars today can be purchased with technology reserved for $100k cars just a few years ago: Blind spot monitoring; adaptive headlights; smartphone integration that allows you to access apps, respond to text messages, and can auto-dial 911 in the event of a crash; adaptive cruise control; smart braking (prevents low speed collisions); and much more. An automotive tech today must be equal parts computer diagnostician and mechanical expert–and the technology becomes increasingly more sophisticated every year. There are two choices; learn and adapt, or find another profession.

I raise this issue because I recently had a conversation with a job seeker I met at a speaking engagement. He worked on mainframe computer systems for 25 years. After being laid off by a global manufacturing company who had transitioned away from mainframe technology, he is now attempting to figure out what to do next in his career. His former employer offered generous education benefits, but he was always  busy and didn’t see the need to take advantage of them. He’s clearly a smart guy who has done some extraordinary things in his career–but he didn’t learn and adapt to new technology. That has left him unemployed and–for the moment–not very re-employable with his current knowledge/experience.

As the person 100% responsible for managing your career, you always need to be aware of what’s changing in your field–what’s new/next/threatening the status quo–and taking action to learn.

Continuous learning is the concept that an employee is always learning new ideas, skills, and technologies through a range of real-time experiences. These can range from learning from peers within your organization; ‘just in time’ learning that comes with taking on a stretch role or project; participating in online/in person learning  like webinars or professional association events; studying for a professional certification such as the PMP or SPHR; self-study through books or online classes available through Coursera and others; mentorship; job shadowing; and more.

My questions to you:

  • What types of continuous learning do you practice?
  • How many of them do you do on a regular, ongoing basis?
  • What is your goal to increase your learning this year?
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