Navigating the myriad challenges of modern careers is something we all can struggle with at times. The day-to-day nature of work is often enough to keep us fully occupied. Yet even as we strive to stay on top of all those tasks, we may not have a real sense of where this is going.
The problem is twofold: the demands of work are constantly changing due to factors beyond our control, and our past experiences and education fail to equip us with relevant skills.
One way or another, you’ll realize that the only way to make progress in your career is to take ownership of your learning. But if you’re only trying to shore up your knowledge in response to current needs, you’re reactive. A proactive approach will help you not only keep pace with changing times but gain an edge and anticipate future demand.
A growing gap
Why does this problem exist? Why are employers demanding skills that are increasingly scarce in the labor pool, let alone among fresh graduates preparing to enter the workforce?
This gulf between skill supply and demand is growing, and it’s not down to unreasonable expectations on the part of employers. It’s actually a systemic issue that’s influenced by several independent yet interacting factors.
Globalization has opened up access to cheap international labor while simultaneously allowing highly skilled workers from developing countries to migrate to developed ones. Companies thus get to offshore less desirable jobs, and the domestic labor pool faces greater competition from the talent influx.
Organizations themselves are also evolving with the times. They are becoming flatter and more open to remote work, which vastly expands the competition for limited jobs. In this scenario, highly skilled workers command a premium.
Further complicating the picture are changes driven by technological developments and other global trends, such as climate change. These effectively require companies to adopt new technology and policies, requiring employees to be well-versed in the same.
Many of our laws are slightly modified from English common law, itself modeled after the codes of Justinian. Two adaptations from the days of the Roman Empire is not a lot of evolution. Small wonder that we still need the services of an estate-planning attorney to ensure that our loved ones will inherit our assets.
Institutions have always been slow to catch up with the times. This is especially pronounced in the legal system, as demonstrated above. But the same effect applies to education. You learn from teachers who devise curricula and use instructional methods that are at least a generation older.
Even with the best of intentions, skill, and efforts, teachers can’t prepare you for the present. Consequently, adults need to be continuous learners. But even that may not be enough.
Adults learn differently than younger students. They tend to focus on aspects of the subject matter that are perceived as relevant to their interests.
This is an advantage for current concerns, but it can also be a limitation. You want to have a curiosity for your continued learning. That means sometimes studying things with little application in the present but may prove useful in the future.
When the topic doesn’t seem relevant to your needs, reading or listening to a podcast can lead to minimal retention. To achieve a breadth of knowledge, you have to dabble in different skills. Pick up various hobbies, and get involved in projects where that knowledge matters. It will help make the information useful and facilitate skill acquisition.
Remember that results always lag behind efforts to improve. Start learning more than necessary now, and you’ll be better prepared in the future.