The views of this article are the perspective of the author and may not be reflective of Confessions of the Professions.
In the days of yore, life was simpler for both young students and industry professionals. Reaching success in life meant simply choosing the best college or university degree you could afford, getting the right set of qualifications for your dream job, and building your career from the ground up for the rest of your life. Unfortunately, things have become much more complicated in recent decades.
According to the findings of the World Economic Forum, further advancement of technology will inevitably intensify the already developing trend of life-long learning as a part of a successful career. With the growing job demands and burnout, it is necessary to find out what is going to replace your initial qualifications as a prerequisite for sustainable future employment.
What Are Qualifications?
In a wider sense, a qualification is any professional certificate or degree demonstrating your completion of an educational course. They can reflect:
- A number of years you have spent learning some topic.
- Your examination results in a certain sphere.
- The hours spent acquiring specific professional skills or competencies.
- Confirmation from a certain company certifying your capability to effectively use its software products
As you can see, qualifications can be highly diverse in terms of their prerequisites for obtaining them as well as their comparative relevance for certain applications. For example, it is evident that a certificate of a Python developer will not grant you an official teaching job at a university. However, this does not mean that it will not allow you to get a higher-paid position at a commercial firm.
Why Are Modern-Day Qualifications Perishable?
Unfortunately, most of the things you know now will get obsolete within the following 5-10 years. In addition to the obvious inconvenience of having to learn new skills all the time, this also forces you to accept a rather uncomfortable mindset that all your learning activities are actually meaningless. The ever-increasing speed of technological advancement in all spheres creates an extremely problematic psychological effect of ‘knowledge devaluation’. This pretty much explains the reason why so many young people choose to not get a formal higher education at all. They ask themselves two main questions:
Why would you spend thousands of dollars to get a degree that will already be obsolete by the time you get it?
Why should you get yourself locked in the rat race of student loan repayment for decades when you can opt for cheaper remote education right away?
Neither of these questions has a simple answer that suits everyone. To understand your optimal course of action, you may need to define what qualifications are actually beneficial to you as a professional.
What Makes a ‘Good’ Qualification …?
Generally speaking, the value of specific qualifications can be determined by a number of factors such as:
- Will they be demanded by potential recruiters during the employment process?
- Are they tangible or intangible (e.g. coding, soft skills or critical thinking)?
- Do they have a good return-on-investment (ROI) ratio over the following 5-year period?
- Can they be applied in a variety of positions or only in some specific sphere?
- Hence, any ‘good’ qualification must:
- Help you get the desired position in your line of work.
- Enhance your existing skillset with new capabilities.
- Lead to higher income levels in the medium- or long-term perspective.
- Make your life easier by increasing your daily productivity.
- Assist you in organising multiple spheres of your personal and professional life.
… and How Should I Choose One?
Unfortunately, it can be extremely difficult to identify the value of a specific qualification before getting it. In this situation, the following strategies can prove useful:
1. Start Small
If you are looking for a way to get more productive in your current line of work, opt for a short course that should preferably be free or low-priced. Many platforms including Khan Academy offer thousands of such programmes that will allow you to find out whether some knowledge actually makes you more employable without making serious investment decisions. Extensive ‘scanning’ will ensure that you formulate extremely specific learning goals by the time you choose a longer or more expensive course.
2. Prioritise Short- and Medium-Term Programmes
While this may not be applicable to all spheres requiring formal education, many competencies can be acquired within a relatively brief period of time. If you have successfully completed a short introductory course in some sphere, look for a medium-term programme to expand your knowledge in it. Keep in mind that the obsolescence process makes such brief learning sessions preferable to traditional formal education in most rapidly developing spheres.
3. Chunk the Elephant
Most educational courses allow you to only pay for one semester/term or one part of a large programme at a time. This is a safe way to ensure that you are really investing your time and money in valuable qualifications rather than some unnecessary ones. Even if you decide to pursue long-term formal education in some sphere, trying your programme of choice for a single term will ensure that you can quit with minimal losses if you find that this particular course or institution do not deliver the desired value.
Where Should I Start with Getting into Life-Long Learning?
While many skills are profession-specific and the types of degrees significantly vary, it is possible to identify a number of ‘meta-competencies’ that will enhance your future employability in any sphere. Here are some areas that you may consider developing right now to supercharge your career. Each of them is compatible with the ‘start small’ principle outlined earlier and can provide excellent short-term results within the scope of your professional and personal lives.
Leadership training programmes are provided by many online academies in both paid and free formats. They will teach you decisiveness, improve your personal integrity, and will greatly assist your capability to be a valuable part of any team.
2. Computer Skills
Adding IT skills to your resume is another fantastic way to make your employment sustainable. You can build some basic competencies in this sphere by becoming a power user of popular operating systems such as Microsoft Windows and macOS as well as office suites, presentation software, and spreadsheet software products.
3. Communication Skills
Finally, communication programmes will teach you to speak in public, read the verbal and non-verbal signs shown by your communicants, engage in active listening, ask good questions, and even improve your persuasion and assertiveness.