With automation and artificial intelligence (AI) defining the future of work, the fate of some career paths is uncertain. Industries like manufacturing aren’t the only ones at risk. Fields such as accounting and legal services, for instance, largely consist of the types of repetitive, tedious tasks that could be automated in the near future.
Regardless of whether AI destroys or creates more jobs, one thing is clear: The nature of American education will need to shift for future workers to be adequately prepared. As automation is increasingly relied upon, uniquely human skills — like the ability to learn and problem solve — will become more valuable.
Humans will need to learn not only how to use the complex technology entering the workplace, but also how to leverage creativity and innovation to control this tech. How can employees accomplish this? The answer lies in learning continuously.
Changing Workforces Need Evolving Education
Workers in certain trades are already finding that some of their core skills are losing relevance. Truck drivers, for instance, used to undergo training only at the beginning of their careers. As automation infiltrates their industry, however, these drivers will need to gain technical knowledge to retain their jobs. In Arizona, self-driving Uber trucks are already hauling freight with a human driver on hand as a backup. Continuous learning, whether that means on-the-job training or online coursework, is key to keeping truck drivers up-to-date in their industry.
At first glance, adopting a continuous learning mindset might seem difficult. But learning is like a muscle: The more you do it, the easier it becomes. People accustomed to continuously learning new skills are better able to think creatively and solve problems quickly. The current American education system often constricts students from adopting this mindset — they learn how to excel at standardized tests, but those skills are rarely transferable to the real world.
As the American workforce changes, the education system should follow suit, teaching more soft skills and encouraging a continuous learning mindset. Barbara Oakley covers this very phenomenon in her online course, “Learning How to Learn.” Some early education systems have figured this out; AltSchool, a Bay Area K-8 school district, has students learn through microschools. This might mean going to a nearby ice cream parlor for a liquid nitrogen lesson during science class or walking to the local playground when gym class rolls around.
If you’re one of the 87 percent of American workers who thinks new job skills are the only sure way to move forward as workplaces change, you might not know how to shift to a continuous learning mindset. These three tips can help you retrain your brain to keep learning.
1. Ask your company for the tools you need.
Employees can’t be the only ones focused on continuous learning. Businesses need to prioritize re-skilling and up-skilling their employees. Ask your manager to give you the tools you need to learn new skills and technology that benefits the whole team, whether that’s access to a certification program relevant to your team or a class that covers a new skill or tool that will be necessary for your role.
The key lies in how you ask for these tools. Connect your professional development with goals that help your company’s overall growth. Will knowing a certain technology benefit your entire department? Will learning a skill enable you to teach your teammates that skill, too? Craft answers to these questions and more, then present them to your manager when you ask.
2. Learn about something that excites you.
Continuous learning should be interesting, not a chore. Take Annie Evans’ story, for example. Evans comes from a long line of coal miners, but she learned computer programming on the side after discovering that she had the basic skills that make for a good coder. After five years of Friday afternoon Visual Basic lessons, Evans left the world of coal mining to study tech at a local co-working space.
As Evans did, take a talent or a hobby that could benefit your career and improve your skills while holding down a steady source of income. This will build up your résumé and your skill set simultaneously, and with all the resources the internet affords us, there’s no excuse not to.
3. Cultivate a community of learning.
Learn with other people — they can help hold you accountable and spark new ideas and ways of doing things. This might mean taking a class, joining a meetup group, or simply rallying friends or co-workers to learn together. The University of Washington found in a study that this group effect can have a huge impact on students’ performance. The results of this study found that when students are in a group learning environment, they perform better both in and out of the classroom.
Today’s workplace is far different from yesterday’s — and more importantly, tomorrow’s will differ even further. People need to start practicing learning to become good at it. As new technology and automation become part of every industry, workers will need to learn on the job to stay relevant. Following these three steps can help you develop your continuous learning skills early.