Why is Lifelong Learning Important in our times of Automation?

In 1944, while World War II was still raging on Ohama Beach, the U.S. Congress quietly passed a bill.

Anticipating the end of the war and the return of millions of veterans, congressmen allocated huge amounts of funds to drive these young soldiers to college.

As a result, by the 1950s, universities achieved to train them in new occupations essential to the post-war era, such as administration and accounting, while their fathers worked in the factories.

Like the post-war boom, our era contains the same opportunities for reskilling and the same compelling need for education. But with permanent technological changes, what we’ll need instead is a willingness to learn at all stages of life.

Here’s why a life-long learning mindset will become essential in your future job.

The Greatest Skill Divide

Everywhere you look, newly-designed automation solutions are handling routine tasks that were once the privilege of the working class.

Whether it’s legal platforms replacing clerical work, software protocols automating administration tasks, or speech synthesis model handling customer service, the situation is equally appealing. Professions that were once the pride and stability of the 20th-century middle classes are losing their importance.

Like any economic innovation, these new solutions also open up new market opportunities and bring new jobs: software designer, community manager, data scientist. And in this field, the offer is growing and numerous, with millions of jobs generated every year…

But will these new jobs be enough to compensate for the upcoming demise of millions of standard and repetitive jobs? We can doubt it when noting that Facebook has only 20,000 employees while featuring 1 billion users (compared to Ford’s finest years with 200,000 employees).

The various economic crises at the beginning of this century have gradually pulled the middle class either up or down the corporate ladder. The delocalization of manufacturing plants and automation of administrative processes has only sped up that trend and devalued low-level skills.

What we are witnessing is a polarization between highly-skilled technological jobs and low-skilled jobs. The latter are increasingly finding themselves in freelance missions such as Uber drivers, online translators, or in service jobs with stagnant wages (nurse or customer service agent).

From this, you might infer that data & AI-related technical skills will become essential to boost your career. But the answer is more complex.

Technical Jobs and Meta-Learning

Just as skills demands had shifted after the war from industrial workers to office workers, employers are looking for new qualifications and abilities.

This is clearly seen in professions that are currently trending in the market, such as software design, data analysis, and digital marketing.

However, despite the supremacy of hard skills related to data and computer science, they are not the first criteria considered by recruiters. Instead, recruiters increasingly favor the already well-known soft skills. According to a 2016 survey, they are looking for workers with “leadership”, “teamwork skills”, “written communication skills”, and “problem-solving”. Specific tech skills like “data literacy” are only coming up in the ranking afterward.

So, even if technical positions are highly valued by companies today, this does not ensure secure employability. Constant technological developments require them to adapt to often changing requirements.

New technical jobs especially require broader hybrid skills, such as cross-learning, critical thinking, and creative problem-solving. People must prove that they can cultivate both expertise in these new technologies and purely human skills such as critical thinking about data.

This is what Google’s hirers demonstrate in their recruitment process. Rather than judging candidates on their technical knowledge, they put them through collaborative problem-solving exercises. They have to work together, share ideas, and show their curiosity, to deal with topics outside their immediate knowledge. In this way, Google recruiters can assess their mindset before their knowledge and make sure that they adapt to the ever-changing challenges of the company.

The only way against skill depreciation is therefore not to rely on a one-time education, but on a mindset based on continuous learning. Employees must learn to learn, to leverage the best learning strategies to constantly adapt their technical knowledge and mental concepts. They must also be able to step back from their expertise and take truly innovative perspectives in their field.

And that means becoming a lifelong learner, finding ever new learning opportunities at every stage of their career and life.

Becoming a Life-Long Professional Student

Faced with the threat of social downgrading, more and more people are going to college to get an education.

However, it seems that a college education is no longer enough to elevate our career and adapt to new business needs. The proof: the wage of young graduates have been stagnating for the last decade.

One of the reasons for this is that the university system as it was invented in the 1960s no longer meets the need for skills training. At the end of the 20th century, employers needed workers confident in their knowledge and technical mastery to manage predefined information systems and technical equipment. Today, the university can no longer rely on an initial training that raises students as definitive experts on their subject.

As knowledge systems evolve, a neophyte in a subject today can become an expert in a new discipline tomorrow. Consequently, we might adopt educational systems that follow students throughout their life, at the moment they need it the most. This is already a necessity for hundreds of thousands of workers that are taking a break from their careers and returning to the university. They are asking for a continuous education process that gives them the knowledge and learning structure to boost their careers.

But other educational solutions exist than those provided by universities. Whether it’s Mooc, books, and podcasts, individuals today have everything at their fingertips to access content tailored to their needs at the time they need it. This means that the student now has everything to take control of his learning process and to learn and evolve his skills as technology and people change.

The lifelong learner will be king of tomorrow’s job market!

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