There used to be a career paradigm that we all signed up to without thinking.
The more experience we gained in our specialism, the more valuable we became to our employer, and the more we were paid for our contribution in return.
Gaining access to that world was in itself a reward for making it as far along the academic path as our intelligence and dedication would take us, accumulating ever-more impressive qualifications along the way.
The present day reality, which every individual and employer has to wake up to right now, is that not only are these models now crumbling in the face of relentless change, but they were always destined to be replaced by something better.
The specialists of yesteryear are at risk of being left behind in the workplace.
Their value narrows as their capabilities in specific fields are overtaken by new jobs and skills that simply didn’t exist when they began learning their craft.
While those working their way through the higher echelons of academia are being overtaken by those being plucked out of school by organisations investing in an “earn and learn” strategy.
With the present pace of change affecting every sector, industry doesn’t always have the luxury of waiting for fully qualified and credentialed finished academic products to emerge from university, before then walking them along the path of learning how to do their jobs.
Even less so when those emerging from rigid 4-6 year tertiary programs often take longer to adapt to their new professions than those introduced at a younger age.
On the other side of the fence, more and more younger job seekers are beginning to reject the idea that HECS debt is an unavoidable price to pay for employability and career satisfaction, as progressive employers provide more enticing and accessible paths towards financial self-sufficiency and professional fulfilment.
These days, every employee with more than the most short-term career goals in mind has to adopt a very different – yet liberating – mindset to education and career goals; that of continuous learning.
As industries and technologies transform before our eyes, lifelong learning is fast becoming the cornerstone, not just of career growth, but of career maintenance, vital to ensuring that employees remain adaptable and resilient in the face of ever-changing job and skills requirements.
Yet, as daunting as that might sound, it doesn’t need to be a defensive response.
The continuous learner mindset is epitomised by curiosity, the desire to challenge the status quo, and the ability for every member of the workforce to be valued based on their ability to learn and apply new skills and ideas, versus the weight of knowledge already accumulated or accredited.
Employers have a pivotal role to play in cultivating these types of environments and opportunities, where continuous upskilling and reskilling are encouraged and supported.
That means not just investing in, but believing in, a culture of learning that places just as much importance on long-term employee development, as it does on short-term employee performance.
In the battle for employees to protect themselves from AI incursions, continuous learning not only focuses on technical or industry-specific skills, but also emphasises the importance of transferable skills, including that irreplaceable human dimension – instinct.
Instinct and judgement can’t be programmed.
There will be times when human instinct will break every rule that an algorithm would follow to come up with a solution to a problem entirely unfathomable to a machine.
We need that.
Then there is the value of workplace relationships, the heart of which is trust in a person’s integrity and dedication to company values, that an AI will never understand.
Machines might be able to absorb more data than humans, but they can never want to learn.
In contrast, human commitment to continuous learning can be underpinned by something greater, like the desire to help people, or something much smaller, like the daily desire to be that little bit better than yesterday.
Not every business and employee is going to want to come along for the continuous learning ride.
Older workers might find themselves at a disadvantage due to the practices and cultures they first have to unlearn before embracing new ones.
Businesses driven by short-termism, who view learning as time spent away from the tools of productivity, are likely to be overtaken by competitors investing in the future right now.
And for academia, while tertiary education is still one valuable way of guiding people into careers, it’s arguably no longer the most effective or the most fitting for the way the world of work is evolving, and it’s up to both educators and students to rethink how they approach this relationship.
One thing is certain though – disruption is here to stay.
The rate of transformation and change is not going to slow, nor is the demand for new solutions to new challenges.
Progress doesn’t respect tradition and convention. And so it’s incumbent upon everyone involved in the complex equation of learning and development to support as many pathways as possible to maximising human value and productivity, at a time when an over-reliance on inflexible models is clearly no longer enough.