Jobs Report: Learning is the Skill That Matters Most

Dennis Yang
Jun 19, 2014 · 3 min read

The Great Recession ended more than four years ago, but we’ve only just recovered the jobs we lost. The jobs report released last week revealed that the U.S. economy added 217,000 jobs in May, the most since January 2008, right before the crash.

While that is cause for celebration, it doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods. According to CNN, population growth over the last four years means we need to add 7 million more jobs to be in good shape. That could be a challenge. Today’s jobs are fundamentally different from their predecessors. Our new economy demands more specialization and skills from jobholders. And the array of jobs and requisite skills has never been more diverse.

For example, the number of open marketing positions is growing at over 12 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Job numbers are growing as are diversity in marketing titles and skills. End result: earnings for marketing job titles are increasingly stratified. A Marketing Manager skilled in basic communications tactics earns far less than a Digital Marketing Manager who knows HTML5 coding and how to target online ads to the right channel.

The same phenomenon is happening in manufacturing and virtually every sector. Employees commanding high wages and companies with market power are differentiating themselves with superpower skills and goods that go far beyond the basics.

Great, you say, just tell me the fancy skills I need to learn so I can learn them, get a great job and retire a few decades later.

Not so fast. The world doesn’t work that way anymore.

Technology is changing so rapidly that we can’t actually anticipate which skills we’ll need next. This puts the onus on each of us. You can’t rely on your employer or industry — you’re a “micropreneur” responsible for your own skill development and professional advancement. To succeed, you must take agency over your own learning.

The marketing manager who learns how to code demonstrates more than coding ability to hiring managers. She shows she understands trends in her profession and that learning can’t end with a college or even a graduate school diploma. She shows she can learn the “next big thing” when it replaces the old “next big thing.”

Inoculate yourself from job and financial insecurity and commit yourself to lifelong learning. Even in the midst of stagnant wages and a hollowing out of the middle class, those who embrace our economy and relentless skill attainment are plowing ahead.

Every day on Udemy, we see more Americans of every age taking ownership of their own learning and building superpower skills. They want to fill the more than 3 million jobs that sit idle because employers can’t find candidates with the right skills. They want to join the ranks of American small businesses that created 65 percent of the 15 million net new jobs between 1993 and 2009. They want to escape from the long-term joblessness affecting 4 million Americans. Many are powering up on skills just to hold on to their current jobs.

We’ve seen this power first hand. For example, John Swanson, 56, works in store design for an upscale department store chain in New York City and has logged over 130 hours on Udemy to keep his job skills on par with those of his younger colleagues. In one month, John learned everything from Advanced Excel and 3D-visualization to web design and Photoshop. By employing what he learned about pivot tables, John was able to plan new outlets in his store and apply new techniques to speed up his workflow, increasing his job security.

To compete in today’s job market, it is imperative that Americans learn new skills. Online learning is just one of the many tools that are available for them to do so. Skills attainment is at our fingertips, and it’s up to each of us to welcome the challenges and opportunities of our new economy. Once we understand our new reality, we can build a new version of the American dream.

Dennis Yang is CEO of Udemy

    Dennis Yang

    Written by

    Technology Entrepreneur and CEO (Formerly Udemy)