A college degree is a prerequisite for nearly all professional positions — but it's not enough to stay competitive. To keep up with constantly changing technology, professionals must become lifelong learners. Regular continuing education and skills updates can make you a more competent and sought-after employee.
Most professions involve one or more interdisciplinary requirements. Marketing professionals need knowledge of sales, for example, and engineers benefit from business training. Cross-training can help you shore up your skills in complementary disciplines so you're better prepared to handle a changing workplace. If you're a graphic designer, coding classes can teach you how to make interfaces that work seamlessly with back-end programming. The way you build these skills depends on your budget and the opportunities available at work. Some businesses offer reimbursement for continuing education courses; alternatively, ask your boss for assignments that stretch your abilities.
Thanks to technology, continuing education can be free and accessible from anywhere. Massive open online courses are one place to start. In a MOOC, prestigious universities such as Stanford, UCLA, Harvard and MIT provide free online course materials — notes, readings, recorded lectures and more — so anyone with an internet connection can learn in-demand skills. Visit university websites to find specific subjects and classes, or use a website such as Coursera or edX. Each MOOC allows you to complete a course on your own time, and many offer message boards or social media groups for interactive learning.
When your workload is overwhelming, it can be difficult to find time for long-term learning commitments. During those periods, reading is the most viable form of continuing education. Each day, set aside 15-20 minutes for industry-specific reading. Scan the headlines of major news and technology publications for relevant headlines, and read articles that look relevant. Then, look to trade publications. Consider subscribing to popular industry blogs, and set up a Google alert for keywords relating to your company and field. Constant reading makes it easier to spot emerging trends and developments that impact your business, so you can respond quickly.
In many cases, there's no substitute for in-person continuing education. Workshops, seminars and conferences provide the opportunity to learn from and interact with leading experts in your field. Start by attending events put on by local organizations such as young professionals groups, professional association chapters or business incubators. Ask your employer to fund trips to conferences or trade shows, and attend every session you can. Keep in mind that a university is good for more than a college degree — local educational institutions often host authors, experts and visiting professors in events that are open to the public.
Continuing education is one of the most effective ways to keep your skills and knowledge up to date. By investing small amounts of time on a regular basis, you can further your learning while maintaining a comfortable work-life balance.
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