Hard work and long hours don't necessarily equate with job security and a successful career. The recession of recent years has shown the folly of relying on that kind of mindset. And many workers in the U.S. understand that. According to Pew Research, 63% of them are engaged in some kind of learning activity to enhance their knowledge base. In today's manic job market, knowledge truly is power.

Pew researchers discovered this statistic while examining the motivation behind America's continuing pursuit of education and skills enhancement. Seminars held in cities like Detroit and St. Louis focused on professional and personal instruction constructs.

Here are some of the main themes that workers talked about:

The recent economic downturn caused a great deal of self-evaluation and pondering. Many participants in the focus group/seminars said they began to doubt their future employability. Over fifty percent of those in the groups said they signed up for classes to enhance their job performance and skill sets.

A Millennial from St Louis stated: "My latest job was a starter position that could become obsolete at any time. Continuing education is just a given for me now, until I feel some job security."

Instead of automation, most workers now fear that advancing technology will make their jobs either superfluous or untenable.

The necessity of staying ahead of the game is a leitmotif with most workers, no matter what the demographic. Otherwise, the thinking is, you get left behind in the dust with dwindling options and low self-esteem.

Said a Millennial in the entertainment industry in Atlanta: "If you're not moving forward, knowledge-wise, you're actually moving backward. There's no middle ground anymore. It used to be you could rely on contacts and calling in favors, but once the Recession hit it became all about value for money. If you can't deliver the goods because you don't know how, you're not just old-fashioned -- you're a liability."

Globalization and outsourcing are the newest bogeymen to threaten workers in America. Shrinking options are the grim new reality for most workers and executives outside of the white collar professions such as medicine, certified accounting, and banking.

A young white-collar worker in St. Louis ranted: "The competition is insane, and it never lets up. No matter what you accomplish for your bosses today, they expect you to do better tomorrow and be more productive. Nobody says it, but everybody knows that you can be let go in an instant and someone else with better skills and lower pay expectations can take your place. I work out at the gym every week night just to let off the accumulated stress at work -- otherwise I might go ballistic!"

But it isn't all competitive and narcissistic. In the study groups, many individuals claimed they were continuing their educations to become better persons, not just better workers.

Said a non-profit worker from Baltimore: "The only person I'm really in competition with is myself. When I learn a new skill I feel like I've solved another piece of the puzzle of why I'm here on earth. It makes me feel good about myself -- and that, in turn, makes it easier to handle the career challenges I have to face just like everybody else."

A participant in the St. Louis area said that when his company needed to improve outside communication and app development he went ahead and taught himself in his spare time about the skills needed to do this kind of work and added in the services of mobile app design to supplement his time spent on app designing, and within a year and a half had helped his company become so high-profile that they were singled out by a representative of the Obama administration as a shining example of community involvement and transparency.

"The company did not expect this to come from a regular employee like me" he explained. "They were bowled over and it didn't hurt my future career prospects with them at all."

Another participant said she keeps up in her career field because she feels so many others depend on her for guidance and help: "Both my family and my colleagues depend on me for information on which to base informed choices, so I feel obligated to keep abreast of the latest news and findings in my career field and family studies."

On the whole, while participants were not particularly happy with the consequences of the recent recessionary era, they didn't feel that continuing their educations was a painful burden so much as an interesting challenge or worthwhile exercise in improving their self-image. In other words, it was seen as a plus, not a minus, in their lives.

Published on: Apr 22, 2016