Why Professional Development?
This may seem like a rhetorical question. Isn’t the answer obvious? Don’t we all need to grow our professional skills? Who among us wants to become a technological dinosaur, unable to find work and earn a living?
Sceptics might ask, Where’s the payoff? Are there any guarantees that expensive college, graduate or certificate courses will result in higher salaries – or any salary at all? What about all those overeducated baristas trying to pay down their $50,000 college loans on $11 an hour salaries? And what about the fact that many jobs that formerly required only a high school education now require an associate’s or even a bachelor’s degree just to gain entry?
I have worked as a career counselor for 20-plus years, and this kind of question has been posed to me constantly by people out of a job or considering changing careers. Should they invest lots of money and time in growing their skills, or should they stay put and make the best of it, provided, of course, that they can remain working where they are? Thousands of people in manufacturing, engineering, skilled and unskilled labor didn’t have this choice. Jobs were exported or automated out of existence, or increasingly made obsolete like coal mining, steel mills or electronics.
In many respects, the demands of our current economy have answered this question in the affirmative. You have to invest in yourself. You have to grow your skills. Not doing so puts you at risk of becoming unemployable. Sadly, at this point, the jobless worker now bears the full cost of ongoing education.
During the Great Recession, corporate training expenditures dropped by 50 percent. Today we all have to pay out of our own pocket for advanced skill training. Yes, there are a few government training grants during mass layoffs (think auto workers and coal miners), but many professionals are now adding the increasing costs of professional credentialing to the burden of their college loans.
Professional development makes sense in other ways as well. For example, older workers have a bucket load of skills and experience that can translate into higher productivity in the workplace. But each person’s bucket usually has a few holes in it where once relevant skills have become obsolete and their value is diminishing daily. New skills and technologies come along which also need to be mastered. Today, lifelong learning has become a necessity.
Added to this is the fact that jobs don’t last as long as they did 20 years ago, when the average job might last eight years or more. In 2016, the average length of tenure in many occupations is four years. Now, every 48 months you could be out of work and thrown into a growing and younger labor market. Employers ask for the latest skills, and woe to those who lag behind.
Professional development’s value, however, isn’t just a matter of dollars and cents. Satya Nadella, current CEO of Microsoft, said in an Aug. 4, 2016, story in Bloomberg Businessweek that learning and adapting are part of our human DNA. When we stop learning we abandon our human potential. “All change is hard…,” Nadella said. “But we also recognize that if we don’t, then the fundamental human quality of being able to adapt is not going to be exercised.” Professional development helps you to realize your potential. It keeps your brain young, builds your confidence and maintains your attractiveness to employers. That’s a winning combination.
The downside of ongoing professional development is its cost. Who will pay for this constant upgrading of skills? Corporations are jumping ship. The government hasn’t gotten into the act. Middle-class workers are too stressed financially to pick up the whole bill, given their stagnant income levels and a slow-growth economy.
This is where the Professional Development Collaborative comes in. In fact, this is why it was created in 2008. A group of unemployed professionals got together and said, “Let’s create a non-profit where we can grow our skills affordably.” The PDC had lots of talented industry experts in its ranks or had access to them through their professional associations. Many of these men and women, all impacted by the Great Recession, offered their services at a modest rate. Volunteers gave their time and talent to run the organization, arrange workshops and market our courses. The PDC has been going strong since then, growing our audience and our course selection.
The PDC and organizations like us aren’t the whole answer. Free or low-cost online education is another building block for growing skills. Political campaigns are now talking about lifelong learning credits where the society invests in its population and its economy. This is the long-term solution. Unfortunately, financial aid for lifelong learning hasn’t reached a level of public acceptance yet, but it’s an idea whose time is likely to come in the next 15 years. In the meantime, the PDC is available to meet your learning needs affordably.