Thirty years ago, if you asked someone if they needed to continuously be learning in order to keep their job, you’d probably get a vague answer like “if you want to” or “only if you’re looking for a promotion”. In fact, some articles about career advice in the 1990s make no mention of professional training at all. An article covering long-term career advice written by someone who has been working in their industry since the 1990s puts a heavy emphasis on the skills you have going into employment and progressing within the confines of the job – but not on continual education and upskilling. With references like that, upskilling and pursuing higher education might seem like little more than a modern fad. But that would only be half the picture.
Upskilling in IT & Engineering Has Always Been Required
Let me tell you a quick story. A mere three decades ago, my father was a professor in both IT and civil engineering at university. He was, you could say, at the top of the pile of IT professionals in this country, already sporting an IT career that would make other professionals blush, and pretty up there in terms of developing IT infrastructure. Today, he does IT infrastructure work for banks. If you asked him now how much he has needed to upskill over the years professionally he’d answer in a split second – over those thirty years, he needed to relearn everything.
The Industry is Rapidly Changing
See here’s the thing, over the last thirty years EVERYTHING has changed in terms of both IT and engineering.
With IT it’s pretty obvious. Thirty years ago, we were using Windows 3.1 and the best way to optimise it or fiddle around with it was to access it via DOS and XTree Gold. Then Windows 95 happened, and accessing the operating system became much more limited as XTree Gold was removed from the system and a lot of the old ways to manage files or hack the system up had vanished.
Then there was the rise of Apple computers. With it came the spread of internet access and the growing threat of cybercrime. On top of that, software became much more highly specialised – sometimes unique to the company – and the capabilities of computers and computing power increased in both breadth and depth as time went on. And that’s without going into detail about any one element of the profession!
As for the civil engineering side of things, well, today my father would hardly consider himself qualified to work on the sort of projects he used to manage. Sure, he still has enough of the skills to make educated guesses, identify issues, and propose solutions, but with the advent of wireless technologies and the cybersecurity measures of keeping essential systems both physically separated and duplicated, the entire physical landscape of IT infrastructure and engineering has changed as well.
Now for some other jobs, one university degree is probably all you need to set you up for a career – any changes you can absolutely learn on the job. But for anything that involves IT? Massive changes happen within only a few years and it’s impossible to keep up exclusively by working on the job, you have to pursue professional education to help push you forward.
How Often Should You Upskill?
People will debate how often you need the additional training, whether that’s every two years, every five years, or even every ten years. But unless you plan to hyper-specialise or hyper-generalise, top-up courses are an absolute must just to keep up with the industry overall.
Exactly what sort of a top-up and how often you’ll need it is probably something only you can answer, but if it helps, there is academic writing on this. Back in 2009, a landmark psychology publication by a number of academics came out focusing on this phenomenon of optimising learning and professional memory loss over time. The study concluded that appropriate spacing of study can double retention on educationally relevant time scales, but without that spacing and without refresher courses, there is always a notable decline.
Still think upskilling and pursuing higher education is just a fad? Well, for your personal career and your specific role, it might be. But broadly speaking? Upskilling and retraining are practically a necessity for some roles, especially in this modern age where everything is interconnected to technology that rapidly evolves and transforms itself every decade. So give it some thought, and when you’re ready, enroll. Whether it’s completing a short course, a diploma, or a Master of Engineering online, the academic boost will help you in the long run – and it doesn’t look too bad on a resume either.