The “abilities” — availability, flexibility and affordability — are luring more business professionals than ever to pursue continuing education. And many are finding it the key to advancement, say educators who have made lifetime learning their business.
“Continuing education has been around for well over 100 years,” said Dr. Tracey Wofford, Mercer University’s Director of Admissions for Adult Learning Programs and adjunct faculty member.
The classic definition of continuing education, according to Wofford, is when adult learners, who have a college education, seek higher degrees. “That definition is shifting because of online courses. Online extends the accessibility of programs.”
Continuing education can be less expensive than attaining a typical college degree, and offers more flexible hours with the advent of online classes. Thus, many working professionals are finding the benefits and comfort of pursuing higher education degrees and more specialized certificates.
“Continuing education allows professionals to go beyond a traditional degree to refresh and retool in order to stay current and relevant,” said Diane Lee, director of Georgia Tech-Savannah. “Not only is technology constantly changing, but so are industries, markets and professions. Success for professionals today means being able to navigate change and constantly reinvent themselves to meet the evolving needs of employers, professions and industries.”
In certain instances, employers will pay for continuing education for their employees, encouraging further learning or requiring it.
Other times, individuals will choose to expand their knowledge on their own dimes.
For some professionals, this can mean upgrading their skill sets and expanding their areas of expertise, continued Lee. For others, continuing education can offer a completely new career path.
“The average person now changes jobs 12 times in their career,” Lee explained. “Professional education plays an essential role in empowering individuals to take charge of their own career advancement and develop expertise that’s in demand in a constantly changing environment.”
And the benefits of continuing education are plentiful.
“When the employer initiates the continuing education training, it means happier employees and greater retention for the employer,” said Belkis Torres-Capeles, Ph.D., Georgia Southern’s Executive Director of the Division of Continuing Education. “It also encourages great confidence in the employee. And clients feel more confident because they’re experiencing people who have the greatest skill sets out there.”
Capeles added the employers experience an increase in productivity.
Not only does continuing education boost confidence and productivity in individuals, it also enhances their professionalism, gives them recognition from their peers, adds credibility to their resumes, and prepares them for higher job responsibility, according to Capeles.
“It puts the individual in the position to ask an employer to add an additional $10,000 to his or her salary,” said Capeles.
Pursuit of continuing education shows employers that individuals have the motivation, drive and mind-set to keep learning and adding value to their roles, added Lee.
“By investing in lifelong learning, individuals demonstrate to employers that they’re able to adapt to changing needs and keep pace with constantly evolving market demands,” she explained.
Georgia Southern offers project management courses, legal awareness in the workplace, HR tools and training, safety protocol for hospitality industry, and classes in all fields, such as medical and real estate. “Name the industry and we will provide it through our online providers,” said Capeles.
Capeles continued that Georgia Southern offers both online and offline — in Statesboro, in Savannah, and at locations of employers. “Online is valuable for people who have a conflict with time and scheduling. People who have a lifelong learning need to make time for learning and continuing education. Online allows them to customize to any schedule and field.”
Georgia Tech Professional Education offers programs in different formats and options to fit schedules and learning preferences.
“For example, we offer online programs, including nine Master of Science degrees,” Lee said. “We have hybrid programs, such as our professional master’s degrees that include a combination of online and face-to-face instruction.”
Georgia Tech Professional Education hosts traditional face-to-face courses and certificate programs in Atlanta and Savannah. The school also has custom-designed programs delivered at partner locations globally.
“We develop our programs with the needs of adult learners in mind,” Lee said.
Some universities offer continuing education under one school or program. Other universities, like Mercer University, offer continuing education courses at each of its twelves schools.
“We’re a private institution, so we’re able to incorporate continuing education courses to our different schools. We find it allows us to be more nimble and customize classes to workforce learning,” said Wofford.
As a continuing education provider, Capeles said, “We have to be able to provide a good environment, great research, and great professors. We need to constantly be aware of issues and trends.”
Trends in continuing education, Wofford added, is that more people are turning to continuing education because classes are going online.
Employers are also looking for higher return on investments and value in what they’re spending.
“We’re seeing shorter, briefer places of study, that are geared toward the information technology world, like badges, certificates, and micro credentials,” she said. “More companies are getting on board to sponsor employees in getting certifications relevant to jobs.”
A trend in continuing education topics, Wofford added, is focused on soft skills, such as conflict resolution, negotiating, and understanding what true leadership is beyond just a stereotypical norm of the top leader.
Georgia Tech works closely with local businesses to design courses to specifically address learners’ and employers’ needs.
“In Savannah, we designed an entry-level Learners &Leaders program: a breakfast seminar to help companies in the coastal region stay current on topics of relevance such as mobile apps, coaching and mentoring, leadership and logistics,” said Lee. “It helps us to raise awareness about what we’re doing on this campus and the programs we offer.”
Georgia Tech Professional Education offers short courses, professional certificates and degree programs, including online master’s degrees and hybrid professional master’s degrees in high-demand STEM fields.
The school also offers a program for veterans, the Veterans Education Training and Transition (VET2) program, which is one of the first of its kind in the nation. VET2 ensures Georgia service members are provided employment opportunities and assistance in their transitions.
“Learning, like our lives, does not always fit neatly into stages,” Lee said. “By building intergenerational hubs of knowledge and tapping into technology, we can more easily incorporate lifelong learning into our businesses, thereby increasing our capacity for success.”