Lifelong learning is the new order

The 100-year life has been steadily approaching for some time. Due to scientific advances, such as tackling infant mortality, cardiovascular disease and the reduction of smoking rates, around half of those aged 20 today are expected to live to 100 (Deloitte, 2018).

Woman studying from home

By extension, we’ll also be working longer. Based on Australian labour force trends in the most recent Commonwealth Treasury Intergenerational Report, it’s forecast that people will be working well into their 70s or 80s (Deloitte, 2018).

This 50 to 60-year career is not only longer, however, but a lot more fluid. Macro forces such as the digital evolution, climate change and an ageing population are rapidly changing the world of work as we know it – making some roles redundant, surfacing new ones, and triggering a host of emerging and future skill needs (EY Sweeney, 2019).

As Associate Professor at the Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education, Chi Baik, says: “we’re seeing a couple of things: people making career changes because their interests, values, aspirations, motivations change – because they have to work longer. And people who have trained for jobs that are no longer relevant, including young people who might enter higher education with a certain goal in mind, to later find out they have to retrain or upskill to get into a profession they want.”

Current estimates are now that people will change careers around five to seven times.

While regular upskilling has been the case for many years in areas like health or education, says Associate Professor of Economics, Michael Coelli, “now people in many jobs are being asked to update on a very regular basis to keep up to date with what's going on in their field.” In other words, lifelong learning – while not a new phenomenon – is becoming the norm.

Instead of a ‘single shot’ of university education at the beginning of life – as the case has traditionally been – the idea gaining traction now is that learning is a lifelong endeavour for individuals at every stage of their career (Jahanian, F. 2019). Returning to university is no longer only for people wishing to make major career changes or pursue significant career advancement, but for everyone wishing to remain relevant.

In recognition of the need for serious lifelong learning – whereby people of all ages and stages of life need to upskill frequently for their job – the University of Melbourne established the Melbourne School of Professional and Continuing Education (MSPACE).

“It was a response to the idea that people increasingly want – and need – to change careers as part of the way things are evolving in our community and society,” says Pro Vice-Chancellor (Teaching and Learning) Gregor Kennedy.

While the University has always offered continuing education, the initiative allows specialisation in this area, providing strategic direction of the portfolio University-wide and the capabilities to innovate with new models, strategies and programs that meet the specific needs of lifelong learners in the context of significant societal change.

With expertise across all areas of post-professional education and a collaborative relationship with all faculties, the school can respond to emerging industry needs, challenges and shifts in society with fit-for-purpose programs. As well as high demand skills, knowledge and capabilities, the type of learning is tailored to post-professional learners – many of whom have work, family and personal commitments

“We can design courses of various shapes, sizes and modalities, and create programs deeply connected with industry, that award microcredentials, or provide individual pathways into other programs,” says Professor Kennedy. Melbourne MicroCerts, the University’s unique offering of a microcredential, is just one example.

As Associate Professor Baik says, “Lifelong learning is absolutely essential for everyone in the 100-year life.” MSPACE helps to ensure the University meets that need and provides learners with the research-backed knowledge and skills they’ll benefit from most.

To see current professional development courses offered by the University of Melbourne, visit the website.


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