Why Constant Learning is Needed to Stay Ahead of Labor Market Changes

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Right now, the labor market is tighter than it has been in years. For college graduates, career professionals, and people looking to advance or change careers, a tight labor market makes it easier to find jobs and opportunities. For HR departments and managers, it can create staffing headaches. Yet while the labor market is looking quite strong right now, conditions can change in a heartbeat. Further, while opportunities are there, it’s going to be those applicants who are most aggressive about upgrading their skills and pursuing opportunities that will benefit the most.

There are two points that every working professional needs to keep in mind. First, ups and downs in the business cycle are inevitable. Eventually, the economy will fall back into recession. This year, next year, five years down the road, who knows when, but a recession will occur. Near as certain as death and taxes, recessions and economic downturns are inevitable.  In fact, right now 42% of economists polled by the Wall Street Journal believe that downside risks outweigh upside, and that there is a 15% chance of a recession in the next 12 months.

Second, advances in artificial intelligence and robotics will continue to have a dramatic impact on the labor market. Think about how much labor market conditions have changed over the past hundred years. Once upon a time, huge numbers of people worked on farms and agriculture. Now, much of that work is handled by machinery.

Half a century ago, many people worked on the lines in factories, assembling cars, refrigerators, TVs, and everything else. In fact, in  1960, over 25% of the population was employed in manufacturing. Now, robotics handle much of the manufacturing, while many of the rest of the jobs have been shipped to China, Mexico, or elsewhere. Now, less than 10% of the population is employed in manufacturing. Now, advances in software and AI are starting replace even some white collar jobs. Ultimately, what can be automated will be automated, it’s just a matter of when.
Through continued learning, however, you can stay ahead of these changes and ensure that you are always prepared for the labor market.

Don’t Just Stay Ahead, Take Advantage
Changes in technology, the labor market, and the overall economy  deserve the attention of everyone. Whether you’re the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, or a fresh graduate out of college, the previously mentioned changes can and almost certainly will affect you. Yet it’s possible to stay ahead of these changes by upgrading your own skill sets.

For career professionals, changes in technology and the economy can present a threat. However, proactive professionals can stay ahead of technological changes and prepare for economic downturns by continuing to cultivate their skills. Think about this: thirty years ago computers were relatively new and exotic tools. If you knew how to use computers back then, you would have been well ahead of the curve. And as companies came to rely more on computers, you would have become all the more valuable.

These days, just about everyone who needs a computer for their job, knows how to use a computer to one degree or another. For many, basic knowledge of a computer is now a necessity rather than a competitive advantage. Yet if you can learn more advanced software, such as Excel, or how to build websites with HTML and CSS, you can become more valuable.

Robots are going to replace a lot of manual jobs, and even some white collar jobs. This trend has already been observed, and will continue through into the future. Yet some skills are essentially un-automatable. This can include certain people skills, like negotiation or HR management. It can also include many technical skills, such as programming and advanced accounting. Creative jobs, like writing awesome copy for websites, or designing graphics, will also be less likely to be automated.

At least for now, computers and robots can’t really “think.” Yes, machine learning and other advances decreasing the gap between the human intellect and software/robots, but creative, strategy, and people skills, among others, won’t be going away any time soon.

Of course, you have to actually cultivate these skills. Many universities offer degree and certification programs, but these are expensive and often don’t fit in with professionals’ schedules. Self-directed learning is great, but it can be hard to prove to potential employers or current bosses that you’ve actually picked up the knowledge. Further, if you get lost or stuck, your efforts might fall apart.

Luckily, the advance of computers and software now makes it possible to learn online through certification programs. Such self directed learning offers a flexible way to learn on your own time, and at your own pace. You’ll be given access to far more resources than you’d have if you tried to learn on your own. Continuing to advance your education through online and on-demand education is a great way to stay ahead of changes in the labor market.