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Only Lifelong Learners Need Apply

Sheri Welsh

I remember being a student in the business school at Central Michigan University. My coursework was rigorous and challenging. After four-and-a-half years of hard work, I recall the feeling of accomplishment upon receiving my degree. I also remember feeling like my new found knowledge and degree would successfully carry me into a great career.

I looked forward to putting the books down and having freedom from hours of studying. While not a conscious decision NOT to learn, it WAS an unconscious move to allow learning to slip to a low priority in my life. And years later I realize that's precisely when the learning began.

After 25+ years in business, I now look back and recognize that I began learning from my very first day on the job. But a paradigm shift about learning--of consciously seeking out opportunities to learn and challenging myself through continuous improvement--came much later in my career.

I believe my experience is similar to what many professionals have encountered. Maybe you too have allowed your supervisor or employer to drive what you will learn and you have not yet committed yourself to becoming a lifelong learner.

In the fast paced, ever changing world we work in, learning for many has become an institutional expectation. For example, how can an engineer continue to advance and be successful in her career if she does not continually learn more about her field of expertise? In fields such as engineering, supervisors and employers frequently provide what the organization sees as important and pertinent learning opportunities for their teams.

If you are employed by a company that embraces learning you are indeed fortunate. These learning experiences are truly win-win--good for the business and good for you. But regardless of whether or not your employer provides adequate training and development for you, you must develop within yourself a drive for lifelong learning and continuous improvement that goes beyond what is required. You must chart and develop a path for learning that helps to fulfill your personal career goals and aspirations.

"A demonstrated ability for lifelong learning." I predict that, in the not-too-distant future, this skill set will become a standard sought after by successful companies, much like "good communication skills" and "good computer skills" are standard skills required today.

Why? Because our economy, our world, and the marketplaces we conduct business in are changing rapidly. What will our core business, customers, and markets look like in three, five, or 10 years? Based on our current speed of change and innovation, the future becomes quite difficult to predict.

Given that, companies can no longer afford to hire candidates with just the skills necessary to perform the requirements of an open position. Many now look to hire candidates with skills necessary to perform the next role the company may need them for, a role that may not even exist today. Soon, most professional roles will have position requirements such that only lifelong learners need apply.

So where is your career headed? Have you embraced lifelong learning? Are you charting a course of learning and development for yourself or are you allowing your employer to chart it all for you? What do you desire to do three, five, or 10 years from now? Are you developing the knowledge base and understanding it takes to rise to those positions--and the roles of the future--the ones you may not even have thought of yet?

Maybe today is the day you become a lifelong learner.

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