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Continuing Education & Networking: The Keys to Avoiding Career Disengagement

According to a recent Gallop Poll, the percentage of U.S. workers who felt engaged in their jobs was at a mere 32% in 2015.  Gallup categorized workers as "engaged" based on their ratings of key workplace elements -- such as having an opportunity to do what they do best each day, having someone at work who encourages their development and believing their opinions count at work.[1]  Often referred to as career stagnation, no professionals are immune from becoming disengaged in their practice.  Without a doubt, however, it is the professionals who find themselves simply “treading water” in their respective occupations that suffer the harshest version of this career advancement epidemic.  

Whereas in the 1990’s a professional was able to pick up and make a lateral move with relative ease, in today’s competitive market it’s not so easy.  Even in careers with positive projected growth (as the paralegal profession), there are not lines of prospective employers sitting at graduations pleading the new graduates to join their practice.  Every semester, I tell my new students on their first day that their process of finding a legal job starts that day and I continue to hammer that point home during their entire time in the program.  It always amazes me how surprised many look when I tell them this. 

Recent graduates across the country are seemingly getting the point.  A recent survey indicates that 61% of graduates between the years 2010-2016 said that they had visited the career center at their institution at least once.[2] While the survey also indicated several massive problems when it comes to the services and advice students receive at most career centers, (a blog for another day - stay tuned), it shows that today’s students understand that they need to work hard to beat out the competition and land the most engaging employment opportunities. 

A great G.P.A. and effective career counseling certainly will help you land a job but it’s really what you do after landing that first job that makes the difference between a rewarding career path and one that one might find disengaging, stagnant, and unrewarding.  Professionals, and legal professionals in particular, need to find the energy, motivation, and drive to continue their education and network on a constant basis.  Doing so will provide you with professional empowerment…the single greatest weapon against career stagnation. 

Here is some interesting data when it comes to “professional learning” from the Pew Research Center:

  • 63% of those who are working report that they have taken a course or gotten additional training in the past 12 months to improve their job skills or expertise connected to career advancement. 
  • 65% say their learning in the past 12 months expanded their professional network.
  • 47% say their extra training helped them advance within their current company.
  • 29% say it enabled them to find a new job with their current employer or a new one.
  • 27% say it helped them consider a different career path.[3]

Here’s the thing…and for most experienced paralegals this is no new flash: Generally, lawyers are reluctant to voluntarily push you to advance.  That doesn’t mean they don’t value your work and service to the practice.  It means simply that if you are willing to remain in the same position year-after-year with no promotions or significant increases in salary they are just fine with that.  This separates lawyers from no other profession, however, as almost all executives in any business typically seek out getting the most help/work for the lowest compensation possible. 

The tug-of-war in career placement and advancement really boils down to two competing sides:

The endless pool of job seekers in the one corner

v.

The doctrine of “good help is hard to find” in the other

Professional learning is your tool to win the fight.  If you have done nothing to advance your career, then a supervisor very well might be correct in thinking that recent graduate can do much of what you do only cheaper.  Even if this opinion is wrong (because experience does matter), supervisors won’t admit it out loud.  In this circumstance the supervisors are much more likely to treat you in a way professionally that ensures your disengagement and secures a lack of true advancement. 

With professional learning comes professional networking and if you haven’t done the former you won’t have the latter.  Every semester, I tell the graduates leaving that their learning has just begun and that to truly succeed in this ever increasingly demanding profession, they must pursue professional empowerment each and every day.  It truly must be viewed as a job within a job. 

With empowerment comes knowledge, confidence, and connections.  These three things not only provide the tools to excel, it lets the possessor of these characteristic send the latent message that they are willing and able to make a lateral move, if the circumstances justify it.  While the employer might not admit it publically, they will realize that you are not easily replaceable.  Accordingly, the employer will ensure that you remain engaged, satisfied, valued, and compensated appropriately. 

No doubt about it, good help is hard to find.  What’s more, good help that’s motivated, driven, connected, and empowered is all the more difficult to find, and it will without a doubt be valued the way it deserves to be. 



[1] http://www.gallup.com/poll/188144/employee-engagement-stagnant-2015.aspx

[2] http://www.gallup.com/reports/199172/gallup-purdue-index-report-2016.aspx?g_source=gallup%20purdue%20index&g_medium=search&g_campaign=tiles

[3] http://www.pewinternet.org/2016/03/22/lifelong-learning-and-technology/


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