Today's work environment undeniably places many demands on the skills, knowledge and experience of all employees. This makes the commitment to continual skills and knowledge upgrading essential for employees at all levels of the organisation.

Upgrading opportunities can come from both in-company initiatives for job and career development as well as from the numerous training and educational programmes offered by external institutions.

Although the need for progressive upgrading is generally acknowledged, it is also quite common to see employees not fully appreciating the importance of it. A lack of commitment to upgrading opportunities may in the long run be detrimental to an individual’s career progress.

An extreme example of this is the desperation often expressed by retrenched workers to hurriedly upgrade their skills and knowledge to remain relevant in the workforce.

There are many underlying factors why employees at all levels, both managers and subordinates, fail to commit fully to ongoing upgrading efforts. The primary reason is the immediate demands of career and work goals that create a reluctance to devote time and effort to such initiatives.

First, it is ethically wrong for managers to expect commitment from their subordinates to upgrading initiatives when they themselves are not personally committed to the process.

It is fundamentally important for managers themselves to be role models and champions of skills upgrading. Long-term employment is no longer a certainty in today’s job market.

This coupled with the generally increased lifespan of the population makes the old view of a person’s work life — with its distinctly segregated phases of education, career building and leisurely retirement — impractical.

The realities of today’s job market instead support the need to strike a balance between work and competencies upgrading at all stages of a person’s career.

This is necessary to prepare employees not only to face the stress of real and potential job transitions while progressing through their career but also to eventually move into productive retirement.

It is thus crucial that employees actively participate in available upgrading opportunities by constantly keeping the following questions in mind:

* How can I continue to be more effective in my work?

* What will I do if I am retrenched or my organisation ceases to exist?

Ultimately, active commitment to knowledge and skills upgrading will allow all employees to progressively realise the following:

* Appreciate and enhance their areas of strength. This is important to raise self-confidence and personal value to face uncertainties and transitions in their careers.

* Develop strategies to overcome their own weaknesses and limitations. This is invaluable to close competency gaps and anticipate redundancy as they progress in their organisation.

* Review work processes from new and broader perspectives. Employees should constantly seek opportunities for improvement. This will help them evolve in their careers.

* Build networks and contacts. These are invaluable to enhance job prospects as well as create possibilities to carry them beyond the boundaries of their present jobs.

* Prepare more confidently for re-employment. This includes preparing for work when they are past retirement age, which is crucial in today’s fast ageing population.