If you’ve been working for a couple of decades (or more), you may find yourself facing a career lull, and thinking: Argh! I’ve been doing the same thing for so long! I want something new!
That frustrated feeling may be a sign that it’s time for an educational reboot.
Lifelong learning — a term that covers an array of actions — is only for those with years of experience and repetition fatigue. Restocking your mental toolkit can advance your career and enhance your life at any age, whether you’re a recent grad interested in a field different from your major, a mid-career professional, or a grandparent watching your first grandchild head to college.
While “lifelong learning” may sound like an overly lofty ambition — and a potentially exhausting one — it describes a general mindset around growth. As cognitive psychologist Carol Dweck, author of: Mindset: The New Psychology of Success:, has put it, “In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work — brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. ”
How do you get that love of learning and resilience? Here are three questions about lifelong learning, answered.
Question 1: “University felt like plenty of school for me. Why bother with more education? ”
Answer: The world of work is changing, whether you want it to or not:
Retraining helps you stay relevant. Many of today’s best jobs did not exist 10 or 20 years ago. Opportunity comes to those willing to learn something new. Other jobs, meanwhile, are disappearing, meaning for some people, retraining is necessary to stay employed.
Continued learning also sparks new ideas more generally and helps maintain interest in life. Learning new things is fun. It creates energy. All of these uplifting emotions help build and maintain stamina needed for a long career.
Finally, learning can improve your mental fitness. Studies show that lifelong learning is correlated with slower age-related mental decline. As a study published in: JAMA Neurology: puts it, “Lifetime intellectual enrichment might delay the onset of cognitive impairment and be used as a successful preventive intervention to reduce the spending dementia epidemic.”
Question 2: Who Should Pursue Lifelong Learning?
Answer: At least one billion people within the next 10 years.
As technology continues to change the nature of work, one billion people will need to reskill by 2030 to fill open positions, according to the World Economic Forum’s managing director Saddia Zahidi. If they do not, our global economy will face a “reskilling emergency.” By committing to lifelong learning, you can be part of the solution.
While technology is responsible for many of the changes in the present and future workplace, it is not only techies who benefit from reskilling. As the WEF’s Zahidi has put it, “There’s a common misconception that we’ll all need to develop highly technological or scientific skills to succeed. Yet while it will be necessary for people to work with technology, we’re also seeing a growing need for people to develop specialized skills for how they interact with each other. These include creativity, collaboration and interpersonal dynamics, as well as skills related to specialized sales, human resources, care and education roles. ”
As for that sinking feeling that it’s too late to change jobs? The average age of career changers is 39, according to a survey of 662 full-time employees done by Indeed.com. And that age is probably going to rise, given the trend of younger employees changing jobs frequently. In the United States, people between the ages of 18 and 24 change careers about 5.7 times, as compared to those between 45 and 52, who change jobs only about 1.9 times. Given today increasing longevity (“60 is the new 40”) and corresponding extra two to three decades of work, many people are looking to pivot in the second half of life as a way to find new meaning and purpose. The Encore Career movement is dedicated to supporting this effort, as well as to sparking productive intergenerational relationships.
Question 3: Okay, I’m sold. How do I start building more brain power?
Answer: Choose the route that works for you.
Lifelong learning might mean enrolling in a two-week online course, getting a certificate or specialized training within your current field, retraining at your current place of employment, or even going back to college to earn a new degree.
The need for reskilling has led to an increase in the number of options available today. Addeco Group’s private, for-profit educational arm, General Assembly, offers tech training in cities around the world, as part of its effort to support five million workers through upskilling and reskilling globally by 2030. LinkedIn, Cousera, Manpower, FutureLearn and others are rolling out educational content in a variety of fields.
Online learning brings the expertise of global experts to your desktop, and the pandemic has increased the options, ease, and clout of online education. London-based futurelearn.com, for example, offers everything from short courses taught by professors at universities around the world to college degrees.
Of course, some jobs require a specific degree, exams and licensing, such as psychotherapy or nursing. If you fear you’ve been out of school too long to pick up a laptop and return, take note: the average age of graduate students earning a degree in the US is 33, according to research from the Council of Graduate schools. Plenty of people go back even later. That same research shows that nearly a quarter of graduate students today are over the age of 40 — including nearly 10 percent over 50.
You might also be able to learn new skills at work, as John Wang (not his real name), a marketing intern-turned-systems-engineer discovered. During his internship at a cloud security company, John realized that his true ambition was not to work in marketing but rather to be a solutions engineer. By asking around at work, he was able to get an informal learning plan from the company head of engineering solutions. Using that guide, over the course of the next six months, he learned the required skills on his own. Ultimately, he passed the required test to demonstrate his competence and landed an entry-level position in engineering solutions.
As John’s story shows, lifelong learning can happen any time. It’s never too late — or too early — to reimagine your career and retrain for it.