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The Key to Staying Young: Learning for Life

"Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young." ― Henry Ford

For many decades, the typical career training model was for a person to spend twenty years in their early live preparing for their first job. Elementary school, followed by secondary school, then university, and post-graduate work was the typical path most people followed. It worked.

Yet in the past few years, that training model has been challenged by a concept that suggests "one and done" training no longer meets the demands of today's world. The mantra today is "continuous learning".

Continuous learning is the ongoing expansion of knowledge and skill sets. With continuous learning, employees are provided with the opportunity to make learning a part of their work. It means developing skills and knowledge that make them more proficient in their current job and preparing them for changes in their future careers. It is the process of constant learning throughout their job life.

Why the change?

In past decades, students would prepare not only for their first job but also for their only job with many people electing to remain in the same career and the same company for life. You may note that this lifetime loyalty to a single job was the case for your grandparents or parents.

But today, the average person changes jobs 12 times in their lifetime, with the typical employee staying with their employer for 4.1 years as of January 2020[1].  The days of focusing our education only in the early stage of life, with the goal of preparing for a single career are over.

Thirty-two percent of people aged 25 to 44 have considered making a career change within the past year and 29% of people have completely changed fields since starting their first job after college.

The reasons why people change jobs so often vary. Still, some of the most common reasons for changing are higher salaries, more opportunities to move up in their careers, and simply being interested in a different field or profession. No matter how good a job is, employees will naturally change positions because that is the natural progression of a career.

Regardless of the reason, the switch from "point-in-time education" to "learning for life" is creating a new generation of continuous learners, which requires new thinking in Singapore's approach to education.

"If we need to top up the knowledge and skills of our people as they take on new jobs every four to five years, which means upgrading 20 to 25% of our roughly 3 million local workforce each year: or about a half a million adult workers every year," according to Education Minister, Chan Chun Sing. "Hence, the definition of success for our education system cannot be just how well we produce a cohort of 30 to 40 thousand students each year for the job market. It should be how well we do that plus retraining and upgrading about half a million adult learners each year." [2]

The call for change in our approach to learning is not optional; it is essential for success. A 2017 study by Deloitte found that software engineers must completely redevelop their skill sets every 12 – 18 months so as not to become obsolete. Think about that… an engineer with a 30-year career will need to relearn his or her entire knowledge and skill base 20 – 25 times to remain relevant. The same Deloitte study uncovered that 42% of millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996) are currently considering leaving their jobs because they do not believe they are learning enough, or at a pace that they should, to be competitive in the business world.

Because continuous learning enables employees to improve their skills to reach business goals, it has become a core pillar in most modern corporate cultures. To thrive in today's job market, professionals realise that constant learning is crucial.

"The only thing that is constant is change" - Heraclitus.

In traditional training and education models, the level of knowledge rises and falls, peaking after the education period early in life and then declining over time due to lack of reinforcement.

In continuous learning, knowledge is the result of many, repeated learning events. Continuous learning lets students reach higher levels of knowledge and sustain that peak with reinforcement learning at regular intervals. [3]

As Minister Chan explains, "Learning for Life must not mean there is a body of knowledge that once acquired, will prepare us for the rest of our life. Instead, Learning for Life must mean learning for the rest of our lives and learning throughout Life. No amount of education frontloading can prepare us for life."

Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) recognises that there is no single pathway to success and offer a myriad of learning paths for students of any age. SUSS offers degree programmes in many disciplines, but also provides smaller chunks of learning, certificates that are stackable towards a larger credential, work-related modules, or learning modules for the casual learner.

"Learning at SUSS is not bound by age or qualification, experience, or background as we believe that continual learning is key to staying relevant and competitive in our changing world, according to Professor Cheong Hee Kiat, President, Singapore University of Social Sciences. "Everyone should have access to education, chart new paths, and build a better future. Anyone can join this lifelong learning journey founded on our open, inclusive admissions approach and multi-modal learning pathways." [4]

But let's make it personal. Why should YOU consider continual learning - the perpetual expansion of your skill sets – to be vital to your success?

First, it keeps you relevant.  Today's digital and high-tech work environment demands that professionals continue to elevate and evolve their skill sets. A business process or software application that was standard 5 years ago, may no longer be dominant or even in use today. Professionals who believed that they would be set for life once they "learned the ropes" often find themselves left behind. 54% of employees say that it is essential for them to get training and develop new skills throughout their career to keep pace with the work environment. As Minister Chan noted, "The skills to learn, learn fast, unlearn, and relearn, become more important than getting a grade at a particular point in life."

Second, continuous learning enables you to be cross-trained. An individual with a business degree for example, who pursues a cloud computing certificate, increases her value to her company. She is now expertly equipped to lead business IT initiatives or support the business case development of tech stack investments. A cross-trained professional, who has built a portfolio of skills over time, may be considered for a wider range of positions (or job promotions), will serve as a better coach for a wider range of job functions, and can collaborate with a broader mix of colleagues.

When you are interested, you are engaged. With a single set of skills, you can expect to remain in the same "job lane" throughout your career. But with continuous learning, your career focus and scope can expand as often as your knowledge base grows. Historically compensation was the single most important criterion in job satisfaction. But today, employees' highest priority is the confidence that they are growing in their careers. Continuous education has become a key benefit used to attract and retain staff. In a recent study, 70% of employees expressed how development opportunities and training influenced their decision to stay at their job[5].

Perpetual learning keeps your mind open to innovative ideas and fresh perspectives
Mastering new skills reveal new opportunities and help you imagine innovative solutions to problems. As your expertise expands, your view of the world – and what is possible - will become bigger as well.

Non-stop education will boost your resume. With continuous learning, your resume is a constantly evolving and growing reference for your ever-broadening skills. Some of your notable additions may be formal degrees or certifications; others may be a list of adjacent competencies you have acquired on your own.

Competence keeps you confident. Learning new skills will help you feel a sense of accomplishment, foster critical thinking, and elevate your confidence in your abilities. Whether you are facing a new situation in your current job or entering a new role, the breadth of knowledge you have built over time will minimise fear of unknown circumstances, spark problem-solving creativity, and give assurance that you are prepared for anything.

"Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire." ― William Butler Yeats

From a broader world perspective, continuous learning lets you "pay it forward". Lifelong learning is not just about you. It helps develop your leadership, relationship, and parenting skills, influencing the lives of those who depend upon you for guidance and coaching. Your elevated talent and experience also enable you to become a fully contributing member of your community and our world. Continuous learning makes you the best professional, peer, parent, partner, and person you can be. When you ignite a spark to learn within you, you light the same fire for learning in those around you.

Minister Chan acknowledged that Singapore has been exploring new metrics to measure its continuing education success. Besides the traditional metrics of research and teaching, universities are beginning to evaluate lifelong learning and societal impact.

Singapore University of Social Sciences recognised the importance of giving back to the community when it established its core philosophy of 'Head, Heart, Habit.' According to Professor Cheong, "our calling is to develop well-rounded future talents who are professionally competent and lifelong learners - graduates with a heart to impact lives even as they practise in their professions and contribute to their communities.

Whether you are about to begin your first university course or complete your third master's degree, remember that this is still just the beginning of a non-stop quest for learning. Continuous learning remains the most direct way to ensure a life well-lived.

[1] Kolmar, Chris. “Average Number of Jobs in a Lifetime [2022]: All Statistics – Zippia.” Average Number of Jobs in a Lifetime [2022]: All Statistics – Zippia,, 5 Apr. 2022,

[2] Speech by Minister Chan Chun Sing, at Straits Times Education Forum, at the Singapore Management University,, 10 Feb. 2022,

[3] Chai, Wesley. “What Is Continuous Learning and What Are Its Benefits?” Techtarget,, 1 Apr. 2020,

[4] Cheong, Hee Kiat. “President’s Message | SUSS.” President’s Message,, Accessed 28 June 2022.

[5] Rabha, Mrinmoy. “Why Continuous Learning Is Important in This Era.” Vantage Circle HR Blog,, 17 June 2022,


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