posted August 17, 2017
Continuing education 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? Are continuing education classes 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 100 years alone, thousands of jobs and entire industries have gone extinct from lamp lighters and ice cutters to switchboard operators and bowling alley pinsetters.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 30.9% of American workers were employed on a farm in 1910, and that number dropped to less than 1% in 2015. Futurist Thomas Frey predicts 162 jobs of the future with titles like simulation specialist, drone traffic optimizer and gene sequencer.
Some factors that can cause changes in employment include:
Technological advances in machines and software can increase worker productivity and reduce the number of workers needed, or replace workers altogether. A recent study at Oxford University estimates that 47% of total U.S. employment is likely to be automated within two decades.
Changing consumer preferences for one product or service over another can affect which occupations are employed in an industry.
Companies can contract support functions to other companies, foreign or domestic. This can shift demand up or down for certain professions.
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.
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 skills. Continuing education can benefit you in several ways:
BLS data about education and salaries shows a clear trend: more education leads to higher salaries. This study only covers college degrees, but it clearly shows a significant return on pursuing more education.
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.
Some professions, such as criminal justice or occupational safety and health, may require continuing education to comply with laws, remain licensed or certified, or maintain membership in a professional association. In some cases, continuing education credits can count as prerequisites for certification exams. Even if the credentials are not required, they often serve as an endorsement of your skills and add value.
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.
Columbia Southern University offers continuing education classes in many areas, such as fire science. For a full listing of all continuing education courses offered by CSU, visit ColumbiaSouthern.edu/CE.