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The Economic Argument for Lifelong Learning

beth-circle-headBy Beth Heller

Here’s a fun snapshot.  According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2009 students aged 25 or older accounted for 40% of college and graduate students.  This number is projected to rise by 43% by 2020, with nearly 20% of that predicted cohort likely to be older than 35.  And the factors contributing to this maturation of the nation’s college crowd present an interesting point of discussion for communities that strive to lay the groundwork for a prosperous, thriving future.  

One reason for the shift, as reported by PNC Financial Services, is that 58% of retirees aged 70 or older retired before they planned to retire or plan to continue working in some fashion.  Many in this group wish to continue working in some capacity or another, but many of the jobs available require an entirely different set of skills.  When we think of many of the part-time, decent paying jobs that might be available to retirees, many hinge upon technology.  Uber or Lyft drivers need more than a car, they must be able to fluently interact with satellite navigation and smartphone interfaces. Even basic administrative jobs like Office Manager now expect more than passing experience with Excel, Outlook, Doodle Poles and Content Management Systems.  

But it’s not just seniors who need to keep learning.  A fascinating article in The Economist makes another compelling argument that the long-held relationship between “learning and earning” may be shifting from the model of “get as much formal education as you can early on and reap the benefits for the rest of your work life,” to something more complex.  Returns on higher education, according to the Economist, are currently decreasing at the same time that the costs of university education are skyrocketing.  And, the kind of “vertical” career path that has been long held as the gold-standard – working up from a college-entry position as a marketing assistant to VP of Marketing for a big firm no longer exists.  As every last part of our economy and our lives continues to mesh with technology, higher-level positions require more than tenure.  The employees that engage and continue to learn new, and often multi-disciplinary skills, find they are in the highest demand.

So why do we care about this at Live?  Well, this new trend, radically transforms the concept of lifelong learning from a lifestyle strategy for seniors to stay healthy and engaged, to a necessity for all working people.  And, while the demand for skills and experience grows, many businesses are cutting back on training and staff development.  We must keep access to lifelong learning at the forefront of our discussion around growing the well-being of the Greater Green Bay area.  How can we leverage the amazing assets we have in our universities and colleges, businesses and healthcare institutions, to provide a framework where living in our community means you are learning every single day?  

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