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Yvonne van Hest SAEYSYvonne van Hest is responsible for the PEOPLE domain as Program Director at Brainport Development. Her columns focus on regional developments, backgrounds and trends in education and the labour market.

I am 47 years old. I’ve been working at Brainport Development for eight years now, where I’m mainly involved in education and the labour market. And in recent years I have been increasingly busy with Lifelong Learning. Also known as Learning for Life, or Lifelong Development. And the latest term: Lifelong Curiosity.

The more I work with these concepts, the more I read and hear about them, the less I actually understand them. Everyone involved in policy is working on it. From the SER (Social and Economic Council of the Netherlands) to the provinces, from entrepreneurial platforms to higher education. WE must be lifelong learning, otherwise, in a few years’ time, WE will no longer be suitable for our jobs. Because they are changing at a rapid pace. And yes, that’s right. Machines are becoming smarter and require different skills. Customers expect their suppliers to think along better. And we all need to become more digital. So I understand when an employee of a technology company has to continuously learn how to operate the new machine better. Or not only needs technical skills, but also a problem-solving ability to think along with his customer.

But then we at Brainport Development started talking about ‘practice what you preach‘ and I started thinking about myself. Because if WE all have to lifelong-learn, then so do I. I think so. But what does that actually mean for me? I, a woman, a full-time working mother of 47, who doesn’t even know what she wants to become later. And probably never will. But how should I know what to learn when I don’t even know what I’ll be doing in – let’s say – 5 years time? I, who have read quite a few studies, reports and pieces of advice about lifelong learning, lifelong development, future skills, and so on? I, who almost every day talks to someone from business, education or government about this subject?

Why do we all have to keep developing ourselves throughout our lives?

That’s when I saw it. Because that’s what it is, of course. I learn every day. By reading, by talking, by doing. My job is one continuous bond of learning and development, of curiosity. In fact, I continuously learn to increase my absorption capacity, because I take so much to myself in the multitude of information. And doesn’t that apply to everyone to a greater or lesser extent? The saleswoman through interaction with her client, the app builder through continuous improvement, the cook through new experimental dishes. And the job seeker by writing a letter or conducting a job interview.

So where is the problem? Why do we all have to keep developing ourselves throughout our lives? I think it’s exactly because we don’t know. Even if you do know what you want to become later, you don’t know if you can become it; if the job still exists. And that lack of clarity makes us uncertain. It makes constant development throughout our lives a general ‘must do’ concept. If you don’t develop, you don’t participate.

But hey, we are all actually doing it.

And yet, I do agree that we need to do more with it. All of us. Precisely because of the uncertainty I described. But what and how… that’s what I haven’t been able to figure out yet. Do we all need to first know what we want to become later in order to learn new things in a more targeted way? Or do we need to know more precisely what kind of jobs will be – in let’s say 7 years from now – in order for all of us to be taught from that direction? Hmmm, both options are not really opportune, I think. Or should we focus on learning competencies in order to be flexible? This could help us perform different kinds of work.

In my current job, let me continue to learn curiously about lifelong learning, and try to find the right answer.