When was the last time you saw a job listing for a Producer? Twenty years ago, it was one of the top jobs the newly incorporated Yahoo hired. (Producers were the folks who built web pages, before we had more automated technologies for creating what you see in websites today.) What about listings for PBX technicians or COBOL coders? Seen any of those lately?

Here's a cold, hard truth: Many of yesterday's jobs don't exist today, and many of today's jobs won't exist tomorrow. The more we innovate, the more we position ourselves for potential obsolescence. So what can you do as an employee intent on remaining relevant and productive far into the future?

You learn. Continuously.

Software engineers have known for years that they have to learn new programming languages and new technologies to land the best jobs. But this is happening all over the map now, in many functions that were never previously classified as technical. Look at Marketing, for example. Once upon a time, generating new business involved cold calls and PR junkets and big print ads. Now it's about machine learning algorithms that filter and match leads, and CMOs need statistical expertise and data analysis skills to stay competitive.

Are you prepared to keep pace with these changes? Here are 5 ways you can keep learning alive:

  1. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). There are literally thousands of online learning opportunities now available to help people expand their skills at little to no cost, without travel, and in a fraction of the time that similar programs used to take. Take Coursera, for example. The company offers hundreds of courses through partnership with the world's top universities, allowing workers to complete entire certificate programs on their own time and achieve accreditations that are becoming widely accepted in the business community. If you haven't investigated these options yet, I highly recommend it. You can get a fairly extensive list of available MOOCs here.
  2. DIY online learning. If there's something you want to learn, look it up online. Even 8 year olds know how to do this. In fact, we are raising an entire generation of intuitive learners who habitually teach themselves something new every day using Google and YouTube and similar online tools. Just think about how many people are learning to cook or decorate or build bookshelves just by browsing Pinterest boards right now. My daughter taught herself to knit by watching YouTube videos! Don't underestimate what you can accomplish by cultivating your own library of online "lessons."
  3. Peer groups. I'm a member of a peer group for executives through an organization called Vistage--but you don't have to be a CEO to join a peer group. There are numerous available channels for connecting people in similar positions and job functions. Essentially, peer groups are like scheduled brainstorming sessions. They provide a forum for meaningful professional discourse and idea-sharing, so you can grow your abilities and gain new perspective. I personally enjoy peer groups because they offer an easy way to maintain a running dialogue with people who understand the challenges you're trying to solve. Anyone looking to build leadership and management skills in particular could really benefit from this option.
  4. Social networking groups. Professional groups and associations abound on LinkedIn for just about every industry and occupation, and these networks can be tremendously valuable in terms of learning. If you're in Sales, for example, you can join groups with upwards of 40,000 members and participate in discussions about sales strategies, new marketing automation tools, and so on. Facebook also has professional groups you can find by searching on keywords or job functions. And, if you're looking for something more local to your area, MeetUp is another great resource. You can search for professional networking groups specific to your area, and they're pretty ubiquitous.
  5. Company-funded degree programs. Larger companies often have budget set aside specifically for continuing education. In fact, I've worked with several people who were able to return for an MBA or other master's degrees at a top university with the financial assistance of their current employer. Don't be shy about asking if your company has this plan in place; you could save thousands of dollars while furthering your career substantially. But be forewarned: If you're upscaling your skillset on the company's dime, you'll likely be expected to put it to use on their behalf. Some companies offer funding with the expectation of retaining you for a certain number of years after you complete your degree.

With the pace of today's technology innovation, we have to face facts: New jobs will appear weekly, and once-critical functions will fall off the radar completely. In fact, according to this recent article from The Wall Street Journal, Gartner Inc., the technology research firm, has predicted a third of all jobs will be lost to automation within a decade, and that within two decades, economists at Oxford University predict that nearly half of all current jobs will be performed with machine technology.

Remember, then, that you're only as relevant as your current set of skills. It's your responsibility to continually read, connect, share, communicate, and learn, so that you can be productive throughout your career. All the more reason to do work that you love, right? After all, you're going to be learning about it for years to come.

Published on: Mar 5, 2015