Almost everyone has to generate some form of income from a professional activity in order to be able to provide for their family or themselves. An important success factor with regard to a professional career is the value of one’s own human capital, which can be increased through continuous training and further development. Such increases have the potential to open up new opportunities or better career prospects. It is striking that in the digital information age, education, in particular, is no longer tied to established institutions. Instead, the digital range of educational opportunities has become so comprehensive that almost any knowledge can be obtained without the need for the physical presence of a teaching person. The current pandemic has carried this shift toward online-based learning content into traditional educational institutions as well, accelerating the trend significantly. While the technical capabilities for this exist, the results achieved to date have been largely underwhelming. In addition to an approach to how digital platforms can meaningfully complement conventional learning, this post aims to shed light on what approaches to further education and development exist, and how each person can make the best use of them for themselves, depending on their own situation.
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The idea of human capital can be traced back to Adam Smith, among others, who considered the importance of people’s useful skills within society as early as 1776 in his work The wealth of nations. His approach was taken up and further developed by various authors and scholars. Jacob Mincer, in an article published in 1958, studied the influence of investment in human capital on the distribution of income and empirically showed that the possession of suitable skills leads to an increase in individual income and the training of employees increases the competitiveness of a company. If one follows this understanding, the logical consequence is that both individuals and firms have a strong incentive to invest in human capital in order to improve their own career prospects or to increase productivity within the firm. This incentive is further reinforced by current trends in society as a whole, such as globalization and the increasing dynamics in the world of work. An important distinction in terms of content with regard to the investment is whether it focuses on job-specific competencies or on support skills. In addition, a decision must be made as to whether it is necessary for one’s own continuing education to be evidenced by certificates or the like vis-à-vis others.
Even though the terms continuing education and further development were mentioned together, it is important that an appropriate demarcation takes place here. While continuing education refers to the accumulation of knowledge, further development is more comprehensive, since it also includes experience. Both the acquisition of practical experience and the development of theoretical knowledge are valid approaches to increasing the value of one’s own human capital. It is important that there is a balance here, as focusing on only one of the two approaches can have significant limitations. Theoretical knowledge forms the basis for effective action and makes it possible to find suitable solutions to problems that arise. However, theoretical knowledge alone is of little value. It requires implementation and adaptability so that such knowledge can also be applied promisingly in practice. In combination with practical experience, specialized knowledge thus forms the basis for effective and efficient action. The appropriate application of theoretical knowledge to professional challenges, leading to positive results, increases the user’s self-confidence and makes it possible to pursue more ambitious goals in the future. It should be noted, however, that this effect is linked to the degree of personal responsibility. The higher the level of personal responsibility, the greater the self-confidence that can result from successes. In an increasingly dynamic environment, however, there is also the danger that established patterns of action are no longer suitable for coping with current challenges and that clinging to such routines has the effect of inhibiting innovation.
In terms of explicit educational content, a distinction is essentially made between job-specific skills (hard skills) and support skills (soft skills). The decisive factor in deciding which type of skills to invest in is always one’s own situation. Focusing on job-specific skills is particularly useful if you have already made your career choice and it is clear that you will remain in the profession in the long term. Supporting skills have the advantage that they can be used across professions and are therefore ideal as a supplement or for people who are still in the orientation phase with regard to their career path.
If a certificate is obtained in the course of further training, this enables comparison with potential competitors and at the same time serves as proof that the required skills and competencies are available. However, this does not mean that someone with a certificate must be better qualified than someone who cannot provide proof of one. The assessment of the learned contents is usually carried out by experts, so that a certain quality standard can be guaranteed here. The technical competence of the teaching staff makes it possible to cover a wide range of topics within a given curriculum and to confront learners with approaches they might not have come into contact with during their independent continuing education. The selection of programs with a predefined content structure is thus particularly suitable for learning about a broad range of topics, whereas self-selected content often focuses on depth. Educational programs with a predetermined content structure are also often accompanied by a predetermined schedule. Whether such a time commitment is needed depends largely on the character of the person learning. The stronger one’s own interest in a specific topic and the stronger one’s own commitment to continuing education, the greater the voluntary time investment. In recent years, digitization in conjunction with technological progress has meant that education is no longer exclusively location-based. Online-based learning content is particularly suitable for in-depth study and has the advantage that it allows users to set their own learning pace. If they are also available regardless of time, they can be repeated as often as required for comprehension. It should be noted, however, that with digital structures the potential for distraction is significantly higher and the control of the teacher is limited. In addition, the focus should not only be on knowledge, but it should be taken into account that a central task of educational institutions is also the development of social skills. Digital alternatives are of limited use in this area, and if used incorrectly, they make effective communication more difficult. Regardless of whether further training and development takes place alone or in a group, it is always helpful to seek discourse with other like-minded people in order to consolidate abstract content and learn new perspectives.
The relevance and positive impact of investing in one’s own human capital or the human capital of employees within a company is undisputed and such an investment is one of the key influencing factors for professional as well as private success. The manner and extent of further training and development, as well as the selection of content and skills on which the focus is placed, depends significantly on the individual situation of the respective person.