December 12, 2023

Educate to Elevate: Enabling Our Future Workforce Through Lifelong Learning

Let's face it – the working world today looks nothing like it did 20, 10 or even five years ago. With new technologies, practices and priorities emerging all the time, even the most seasoned employees can feel left behind. Entire industries are struggling with a skills gap, where employees' current capabilities simply don't match what today's jobs require.  

In November throughout National Career Development Month, there was an increased focus on these exact issues where we heard educators, employers and workforce thought leaders discuss these gaps and inconsistencies in skills. Through these discussions – where we all agreed the pace of change is dizzying – we're encouraged to see that perceptions about and embracement of continuous, skills-based learning are shifting in a hopeful direction.  

To remain competitive and adaptable in an era of rapidly evolving industries and dynamic workforce demands, employees and employers alike recognize that learning can no longer end after graduation – it must become a lifelong pursuit that is woven into one's career. Pew Research reveals that 87% of today’s professionals see ongoing education as imperative for success. Forward-looking employers are responding by investing in internal training initiatives and incentivizing skill growth. 


The Skills Gap Dilemma 

According to the World Economic Forum, more than half of all employees worldwide will require significant reskilling or upskilling to adapt to the changing job market in just two years. Rapid digitalization, automation and artificial intelligence have created a mismatch between the skills employers seek and those employees possess. Increasingly, employees need to develop digital fluency, creativity, emotional intelligence, critical thinking and problem-solving abilities to stay relevant in the workforce. Companies and governments must invest in training programs and lifelong learning initiatives to enable the global workforce to acquire the competencies demanded by the jobs of the future.  

The value of a traditional four-year college degree has notably diminished within technical fields in recent years. As the pace of technological advancement accelerates, the skills required by employers are evolving rapidly. Despite this evolution, university curricula often fall short of keeping up with preparing students with in-demand abilities.  

Consequently, many graduates lack the practical skills employers need despite holding impressive academic credentials. Our 2023 Employability Report shows that just 2 in 5 (41%) say their education taught them the skills needed for their first job and 1 in 3 didn’t apply to entry-level jobs because they felt underqualified or didn’t have the skills listed in the job application.  

In the ever-changing workforce, ongoing education becomes a vital tool to bridge skills gaps, enabling individuals to stay relevant and valuable to current or prospective employers. 


Adapting to Changing Industries  

Industries are constantly redefining their structures and practices, demanding a workforce that can swiftly respond to evolving trends and emerging challenges. Whether it's a shift from traditional manufacturing to automation, the rise of e-commerce in retail or the integration of sustainable practices in various sectors, those who can quickly adapt not only secure their own job stability but also contribute to the resilience and growth of their respective industries. 

Employers, too, have a role to play in supporting employees' continuing education efforts. In fact, Forbes reports that 33% of companies will increase their learning and development budgets and 75% plan to create customized learning programs for employees that are tailored to the skills their business needs. These forward-thinking investments in training and development will help build a more well-equipped workforce for the future, especially among in-demand industries. 

Within the most in-demand industries like healthcare and technology, employers and employees are prioritizing continued learning initiatives to stay ahead of rapid industry advancements. Notably, employers in these fields are shifting hiring requirements to expand their talent pool to candidates with skills-based experience. In the last year alone, our 2023 Employability Report shows that degree requirements have dropped significantly in job postings in these sectors, demonstrating the dire need for employees to possess modern-day skills to help businesses sustain continuous industry changes. Here’s where we’ve seen a dramatic shift away from degrees: 

  • 50% of healthcare organizations required a degree for all entry-level positions in 2022; this dropped to 28% in 2023 

  • 57% of manufacturing organizations required a degree for all entry-level positions in 2022; this dropped to 31% in 2023 

  • 81% of technology organizations required a degree for all entry-level positions in 2022; this dropped to 43% in 2023 

Ongoing upskilling and reskilling will only grow more important as job requirements (and career relevance) rapidly evolve. Whether it’s taking online courses, pursuing industry certifications, participating in skills-building workshops or simply teaching themselves new software or tools during their own time, employees (and employers) understand the importance of expanding their knowledge and skill set. By prioritizing lifelong education, employees can remain adaptable in the face of workplace changes, demonstrate their commitment to growth and open doors to new career opportunities.   


The Value of Lifelong Learning 

Employees today understand the increasing importance of lifelong learning and its impact to career mobility. Pew Research shows that 87% of adults believe they need to continuously update their skills and knowledge to succeed in their careers. This attitude highlights a growing willingness to acquire new skills and pursue lifelong learning, as it fosters adaptability, innovation and resilience – qualities that are highly sought after by employers in the modern job market.  

And lifelong learning can lead to “life-changing change” for learners. Within our 2023 Cengage Work Learner Outcomes Report, where we measured specific outcomes from learners who took and completed our learning courses, we more closely understand the direct impact that learning and upskilling can have on individuals. Among Cengage Work learners, the Outcomes Report showed: 

  • 83% reported a personal or career benefit.    

  • 32% achieved income growth three-years post course completion. 

  • 36% reported a meaningful change in employment – a new job, promotion, team or role change. 

Additionally, employers are showing a willingness to adapt their hiring and retention efforts around lifelong learning. Our research shows that nearly half of employers (48%) say they plan to hire talent with some but not all of the skills needed for a role and upskill them, and nearly 1 in 5 (17%) plan to find talent from within the company and upskill them. 

Embracing ongoing education allows individuals and businesses alike to stay competitive, anticipate and quickly bridge skills gaps, and seize opportunities in a rapidly changing business world.   

We know the workforce will continue evolving, and the employees and employers who commit to continuous learning will remain equipped and empowered to adapt and succeed. While the path ahead for our workforce includes many unknowns, we are certain that a skilled workforce that prioritizes lifelong learning and development can successfully withstand and navigate any future change.