The importance of life-long learning in the IT industry
The technological innovation and crashing economies have left millions of people across all industries out of work and struggling to discover where their experience is relevant. Under these circumstances, the rise of "life-long learning" routes such as post-grad certifications and online courses are emerging to help workers stay competitive in the workforce.
For information technology professionals, continuous learning is nothing new. As the founder of an IT training company, I know this better than most. In some ways, the career path of an IT pro 20 years ago is not so different than it is today. Constant training and education have always been a mainstay in IT. From studying for certifications to learning the latest technologies to brushing up on previously known materials, every successful IT pro will tell you that a major part of their career has been devoted to learning.
By its nature, the IT industry fosters a culture of do-it-yourself training and alternative education paths that can lead to a lucrative career. Anyone with enough smarts and perseverance can start from square one in an introductory network management course and work their way up.
I have watched as other industries flounder not knowing how to support people throughout their careers. As technology infiltrates every corner of the economy and redefines what makes a valuable worker, continuing education is becoming increasingly important for professionals across all industries, not just in IT.
Job roles and responsibilities are evolving at a lightning-speed pace. This means that the most-coveted employees are recruited not just for the skills outlined on their résumés, but for their potential to adapt and gain new skills quickly. My company recently conducted a survey of IT professionals, showing that almost 70 percent refer back to training materials on the job at least monthly. This means that learning is built in to every IT professional's work pace, and the same should be true of other industries.
The world's problems increasingly require cross-disciplinary expertise. Specialization is key, but the ability to understand other disciplines and incorporate knowledge from other industries is a necessity for most jobs these days. In IT for example, the "cloud skills" that are so highly coveted are actually quite difficult to define. The term refers to a broad range of possible skills in software integration, data storage and network management. IT professionals need to think holistically about their careers and determine what areas to specialize in and how to quickly pull new knowledge when a problem requires expertise in an unfamiliar area.
In IT, certifications taken throughout a career pull a lot of weight on a résumé. While an expensive four-year college degree is good to have, a list of difficult IT certifications can be even more impressive to a recruiter. Other industries are increasingly finding that traditional education resources are not enough to prepare people for the jobs that are available.
In response, alternative education resources are emerging that make life-long learning possible for people outside of the IT world. Online education providers such as Lynda.com and Coursera are giving people around the world the ability to arm themselves with in-demand knowledge and skills.
Life-long learning is not optional for employees, and it shouldn't be for employers either. I believe that an important next step for companies in all industries is to take a greater interest in the life-long learning of employees. The most successful companies moving forward will be those that work closely with educators and training providers to tightly integrate educational opportunities into the career paths of their employees. Only then can companies attract and retain the best workers.
Scott Skinger is the CEO and founder of TrainSignal, an online IT training company, which was recently acquired by Pluralsight.
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