Horowitz: American Workers Taking Steps to Upgrade Skills

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

 

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Rob Horowitz

A governing tenet of our new technology-based knowledge economy is that for individuals and the nation as a whole to be successful, we all must  constantly upgrade our skills and master new subject areas. As too many of us have learned through hard reality, the days in which one can build a career with one skill set at one company are by-and-large behind us.

The encouraging news is that Americans appear to be adapting to this ‘new normal.’ More than 6-in-10 American workers say that they have ‘taken steps to upgrade their skills and knowledge in the last 12 months, according to a recently releases national poll conducted by Pew Research Center. The predominant reason for seeking and getting job-related training was ‘to maintain or improve job skills."
 
As focus groups on the same topic revealed, the Great Recession with its accompanying major job loss and income reduction, brought home the need to sharpen and expand job skills. One mid-career professional from the Atlanta region expressed a widespread sentiment “I saw everything going on around me with co-workers, neighbors, friends and asked myself, “Who’s coming after me and my job? How long are my skills going to last?” …. I did some research that was pretty comforting, but I try to spend a little time every couple of months now reassessing my status.”
 
A millennial from the St Louis area in his first job expressed a similar idea: “My friends and I just assume that what we do now will be obsolete in the next decade. That’s our reality. You always have to keep learning and improving.”

Once engaged in learning new skills, workers are overwhelmingly positive about the experience. Nearly 2-out-of-3 say it expanded their professional network and nearly 1-in-2 say “their extra training helped them advance within their current company.”  And more than 1-in-4 who participated in job training, say it enabled them to find a new job as their same company or with a different one.
 
Perhaps most telling, the intrinsic rewards of developing new knowledge and expanding one’s horizons seems nearly as important a pay off to the focus group respondents as the income and career advancement dividends. People truly enjoyed “learning for learning’s sake” which means they are more likely to continue the practice. These positive results are reinforced by the broader survey finding that nearly 3-in-4 Americans identify themselves as ‘lifelong learners.”
 
All this good news is tempered, however, by the fact that workers with less education and income are less likely to pursue additional training. For example, “72% of employed adults with at least college degrees have engaged in some sort of job-related training in the past year, as opposed to 49% of employed adults with high school degrees or less." Unfortunately, the people who could arguably benefit the most from more training are least likely to get it.
 
Still, the over-all trends are very positive and that’s good news for our economic future.

Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island.

 

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