Continuing Education: Why It’s Worth It

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Continuing education (CE) is a broad term that describes any learning acquired after a student has earned their undergraduate degree. As the term implies, students already have a college education, and they are continuing it. It applies to all types of education, including degree and non-degree courses, certificate programs, work training, personal enrichment, and self-directed learning.

The question that many college graduates ask is this: If I already have an awesome job and a promising career, do I really need continuing education? Is it worth the time, energy and cost?

The short answer is yes. In today’s rapidly changing world, ongoing education has become essential to both career success and survival in virtually every field. Although the return on your CE investment can vary greatly—depending on the cost, the field of study, and its relevance within that field—not continuing your education will almost certainly lower your value in the job market, and could render you obsolete.

The Persistence of Change

Since it began, our society has been progressing and changing at an increasingly rapid pace. And nowhere is this change more evident than in the type of work we have done and will do. In the last one hundred years alone, thousands of jobs and entire industries have gone extinct from lamp lighters and ice cutters to switchboard operators and bowling alley pinsetters.

Even the industries that have remained strong have dramatically changed. For example, one hundred years ago, one out of three American workers were employed on a farm, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Today less than 2 percent of the workforce is employed on a farm, and yet we produce and export about 800 percent more agricultural product.

Experts have identified hundreds of current jobs that will be in steep decline or obsolete by 2030. Not surprisingly, most of the endangered jobs have a low education requirement, but not all of them. In fact, some sources predict the demise of surprisingly high-skill professions, including doctors, lawyers and accountants. A recent study at Oxford University estimates that 47 percent of total US employment is likely to be automated within two decades. Today, the average worker born after 1980 is projected to hold up to 15 different jobs in their lifetime, according to Forrester Research.

For a long time, the jobs most vulnerable to change were those made obsolete by technology, especially those involving routine or repetitive tasks that could be done more efficiently by machines. But now sophisticated robots and powerful computers, with unlimited access to digitized information, can perform more and more of the complicated tasks that once required human intelligence, and they can perform these functions faster, more accurately, and at a lower cost. As a result of powerful forces, like these, the jobs of the future are changing faster and faster.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the factors that cause change in employment include:

Technology: Technological advances in machines and software can increase worker productivity and reduce the number of workers needed, or replace workers altogether.

Market Demand: Changing consumer preferences for one product or service over another can affect which occupations are employed in an industry.

Outsourcing: Companies can contract support functions to other companies, foreign or domestic. This can shift demand up or down for certain professions.

Organizational Restructuring: Changes in job duties can increase or decrease the utilization of some occupations relative to others; for example, utilizing paralegals instead of lawyers or nurse practitioners instead of doctors.

But just as important as the jobs that will decline or disappear is the number of new jobs that will be created. Analysts also forecast that hundreds of new jobs will surface by 2030 that don’t exist today. Futurist Thomas Frey predicts 55 jobs of the future with some very science-fiction sounding titles, like: Augmented Reality Architects, 3D Printing Engineers, Nano-Medics, and Smart Dust Programmers.

Benefits of Continuing Education

The point is, over the course of your career, the nature of your job or type of work you do altogether will probably change, and most likely it will require more, or different, knowledge and skill. Continuing education can benefit you in several ways:

Higher Salary: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers with a bachelor’s degree earned 75% more than high school graduates in 1999. Over a 40-year career, they are projected to earn about a $1 million more. This study only covers college degrees, but clearly shows a significant return on continuing education financially.

Stay Current: Industries are constantly changing. Continuing education can help workers in almost every industry stay current with the latest developments, technologies and best practices. Not only can this improve your skill and success, it can also boost your confidence and job satisfaction — rewards that are hard to put a price on.

Maintain Credentials: Some professions, such as teaching, real estate, engineering, nursing, pharmacy, accounting and criminal justice may require continuing education to comply with laws, remain licensed or certified, or maintain membership in a professional association. Even if the credentials are not required, they often serve as an endorsement of your skills and add value.

Add Expertise: Beyond staying current, continuing education provides an opportunity to leap ahead and take your expertise further. Your job may only require a bachelor’s degree, but by applying the understanding and expertise of a graduate-level education you can add immeasurable value to your role, not to mention a competitive edge when vying for promotion.

Preparing for the Future

The only thing certain is change. In the future, there’s a high probability that your current job will evolve slightly, change dramatically, or disappear altogether. Furthermore, there’s a certainty that new jobs will emerge, offering greater challenge and opportunity. By staying on top of changes in and out of your industry, you can anticipate the future, identify the opportunities, and pursue them through continuing education. It may require designing your own curriculum based on your assessment of what knowledge and skills will be most valuable, but the education is out there and it can give you a competitive edge.