This story was originally published on Business Insider.
It used to be that there was a widely accepted formula for career success: earn a college degree, land a job, and work your way up.
That's still good advice in 2018, but it doesn't go nearly far enough. And that's because today's professionals, college-educated or not, are encountering a new age of job disruption that is perhaps more radical than anything faced decades ago.
Consider just one statistic: a recent Dell report estimates that 85 percent of the jobs that will exist in 2030—12 years from now, if you're counting—have not been invented yet. Seen in this context, that once-accepted "career success" formula is not quite so clear-cut anymore.
So what does this mean for today's professionals?
A recent McKinsey report put it this way: "The time it takes for people's skills to become irrelevant will shrink. It used to be, 'I got my skills in my 20s; I can hang on until 60.' It's not going to be like that anymore. We're going to live in an era of people finding their skills irrelevant at 45, 40, 35."
In a world where competencies are becoming obsolete at the drop of a hat, adaptability has emerged as a key factor in staying competitive. That means being able to respond to and anticipate change by building upon existing knowledge, as well as expanding it to new areas — and doing so on a regular basis.
"Education is not something that stops," said Dr. Annie Green, a faculty member for the Artificial Intelligence Management Certificate at Georgetown University's School of Continuing Studies in Washington, D.C. "It continues. Just like the continuous improvement of an organization, it's the continuous improvement of a person's knowledge, skills, and abilities."
More and more professionals today are adopting this "continuous learning" mentality by turning to short-form education options like professional certificates. A smaller commitment in terms of both time and money, certificate programs offer an accelerated way for professionals to stay relevant amidst a sea of change.
The higher education world is listening. In response to these shifting demands, colleges and universities are making certificates more accessible than ever, creating programs that cater to the diversity of today's job market and workforce. From two-day workshops addressing specialized competencies to industry-specific programs that run up to two years, today's certificates are as varied as the needs of the professionals who take them.
For instance, take Moe Tun, an engineer for MITRE who earned a Certificate in Cybersecurity Strategy in 2016. Cybersecurity impacts many aspects of Tun's job, so he assembled the information he learned into a theoretical framework consisting of four areas: policy, people, technology, and process. It's similar to the kind of frameworks he and his supervisors use to process complex technical information that might be outside their area of expertise.
For Tun, who has 20 years of engineering experience under his belt, earning a certificate in a new subject helped him adapt to the evolving technologies that had become a regular part of his current role.
For others, like Maggie Corry, a staff technologist at Booz Allen Hamilton, the value of a certificate lies in preparing for the ongoing and rapid evolution of the job market.
"I learned a breadth of new skills and felt more confident to work in an emerging field," said Corry, who recently completed Georgetown's Data Science Certificate.
No matter the industry, motivation, or career level, one thing is clear: maintaining the status quo doesn't cut it in today's working world. Professionals must be able to adapt with the times, embrace uncharted territory, and create new ways forward—wherever they may lead.