CAREER development, at least for managers and specialist professionals, is much more complicated than it used to be in most highly advanced countries, as well as rapidly developing countries.

The “job for life” — which was an expectation among workers for much of the 20th century — often led to sterility, poor practices, inefficiency, low productivity and hostile resistance to change.

True, some individuals behaved creatively and enthusiastically, took risks and were ambitious, but these few could never counter the millions who settled in, kept their heads down, and looked forward to retirement a couple of decades later.

Now, all organisations in the commercial sectors and many in the public sector are demanding evidence that each individual is continuously developing, learning new skills and preparing for change positively and enthusiastically.

Most organisations have a people development policy. Every department must have a staff development plan and each individual is expected to have a personal development plan.

In some professions, such as accountancy, law, engineering, teaching and nursing, specialists must show hard evidence that they are up-to-date in the knowledge and skills needed currently, otherwise they risk being prevented from continuing in that role.

So for those employed by organisations, career development is now a permanent part-time job. They will be involved in a series of activities, such as being aware of developments in the business sector, planning ahead, identifying training needs, selecting appropriate ways to achieve those needs, finding courses, choosing between classroom and distance learning, and, of course, finding a way to pay the study fees.

And this has to go on year after year in a continuing cycle of professional development. If you are familiar with quality management techniques, you will recognise this as a form of continuous improvement or kaizen as the Japanese call it.

It is a major personal task and, as such, needs considerable thought, effort and a plan to ensure that you don’t fall by the wayside and watch others race ahead, beating you to the best jobs, the key roles, the interesting projects, the higher salaries and the better working conditions.

And if you already are, or are planning to be an entrepreneur, your professional development is no less important. You may not be working for someone else, but you have others in your life who are equally demanding: suppliers, clients, customers, employees, other entrepreneurs and professional colleagues.

These groups rely on you and expect you to be as knowledgeable and skilled as it is reasonably possible to be.

If you are not, your suppliers will take advantage of you, your clients will reject you, your customers will disappear, your employees will leave you, other entrepreneurs will take away your suppliers, clients, customers and best employees, and your colleagues will lose respect for you.

Manage your career proactively by continually learning and developing your skills and you will have a successful and fulfilling work life.