The Importance of Continuous Learning and Professional Development for Career Advancement

The Importance of Continuous Learning and Professional Development for Career Advancement was originally published on Ivy Exec.

Most professionals pursue continuous learning and professional development at least once a year.

According to a 2016 Pew Research Center study (the most recent data available), 63 percent of employed professionals sought out education related to their profession in the last year. Some undertook this learning to find a new job or to seek a promotion, but the majority (55 percent) wanted to “learn, maintain, or improve job skills.” 

There are many reasons to pursue continuous learning, which is broadly defined as any type of knowledge and skill acquisition you pursue. Continuous learning can occur in any context, from a dinner party where a friend tells you about his last trip to a webinar you take online. 

Professional development is typically connected to education that builds your success in your current field or prepares you to move to a different industry. 

Whether you sign up for training at your workplace or enroll in an online career development class, it’s important to keep learning to advance your career. Why is continuous learning so important? 

Examples of professional development and continuous learning.

When considering professional development, we likely focus on attending conferences, acquiring certificates, or completing company-mandated training. But these are only some of the options for continuous learning, says the professional development platform LearnUpon.

Examples of formal learning include college or graduate degrees, certificate programs, e-Learning courses, workshops, conferences, or company-wide training programs. These examples are usually what we think of in exploring professional development, but they’re not the only options. 

There are also social learning options, including reading and posting on discussion boards in your industry, pursuing on-the-job training, peer partnerships with coworkers, and coaching. Self-directed learning is similar; you might read a book on an unfamiliar topic or learn a new skill by listening to podcasts or watching videos. 

When you consider all the ways to improve yourself, Warren Buffett’s famous quote becomes more attainable: 

“If you are investing in your education and you are learning, you should do that as early as you possibly can, because then it will have time to compound over the longest period…So instead of learning something that might become obsolete tomorrow, like some particular type of software [that no one even uses two years later], choose things that will make you smarter in 10 or 20 years,” he said.

 Professional development means that your skills won’t become obsolete.

Have you ever felt that as soon as you mastered something, that skill was suddenly out of date? Think of some of the skills that had to be amplified over the last few years. In 2021, Newsweek and The Official Board surveyed more than 3,000 executives, asking them “how the COVID-19 pandemic affected the rate at which executives’ skills became obsolete.”

The executives suggested the pandemic increased their “perceived rate of skill obsolescence” by 71.7 percent. 

This percentage sounds slightly direr than it was but is still a telling statistic about how quickly in-demand skills shift. Many executives reported that they needed to develop additional hard and soft skills besides the “obsolete” ones but that these earlier-acquired abilities were necessary for building new ones. 

So, as this survey shows, your skills are essential, but they will swiftly become outdated if you don’t stay current. The best way to do this is to stay abreast of trends in your industry, making sure you efficiently learn new technologies, best practices, and efficient procedures. 

Listing professional development opportunities on your resume can get you hired.

While all types of continuous learning can benefit your career, pursuing an education that you can put on a resume gives you a leg up on your competition.

Think certificate programs, industry certifications, or even executive MBAs. This training demonstrates to employers that you care about developing yourself and can self-direct yourself in different contexts. 

“Employees who show initiative in independent learning can signal to employers that you are open to new experiences and are enthusiastic about continuing to grow,” said Lian Parsons for Harvard’s Division of Continuing Education.

Professional development can encourage you to look at issues from new angles.

Not all of your continuous learning needs to be hyper-focused on immediate challenges in your industry.

As Buffett suggests, you should undertake broad learning, so you prepare to address problems you might not even know will arise in the future. 

Flint Brenton, CEO of Syntellis Performance Solutions, talks about how his diverse, liberal arts-focused education background made him a more decisive leader. 

“The more I enhance and broaden my perspective, the better equipped I am to tackle problems, both in life and in business. I find that those who continuously learn are better leaders in both contexts. Frankly, it makes us more empathetic to all we encounter, and empathy is a critical leadership trait,” he said.

When executives discuss their own learning with their teams, they drive company engagement.

Some executives may believe they have to know everything, or if they don’t, they have to pretend they have all the answers for their teams.

In fact, says LMS365 CEO Lars Vestergaard, the opposite is true: leaders who discuss their own professional development with their teams drive engagement. 

“[W]hen executives get involved in creating and curating content, it can help drive employee engagement, too. It’s the “practicing what you preach” phenomenon that demonstrates authentic leadership and makes others want to follow your example,” he said.

The Importance of Continuous Learning and Professional Development

Over 60 percent of professionals build their workplace skills at least once a year. But continuous learning has so many benefits, this number still seems low. Warren Buffett instead recommends investing in education that will serve you decades down the line – a benefit that deserves more than cursory training once or twice a year. 

What are your next professional development plans? 

By Ivy Exec
Ivy Exec is your dedicated career development resource.