‘Upskilling always’ is the new normal. Here’s 7 ways to do it.

Upskilling

Constant upskilling is the new normal for anyone hoping to stay relevant in an increasingly mechanised world.

In our continuing series on staying relevant in the Fourth Industrial Revolution we now look at how to keep yourself at the growing edge of your career without breaking the bank.

Our recent survey of 951 employers found 77% are more likely to shortlist a qualified candidate who upskills regularly.

For their part, 96% of the 1,253 professionals we also spoke to regard upskilling as ‘very important’ or ‘important’ and 35% were aware of the technology and digital trends relevant to their job or industry.

However, there’s still time to get the jump on your competition as only 14% upskill weekly, 18% monthly and 20% quarterly.

Don’t be part of the 24% who upskill only once a year, the 20% who do so even less often or, worse yet, the 4% per cent who never upskill.

Here are 7 key ways to take charge of your own development to stay employable.

1. Ask for stretch opportunities at work

Taking on a project outside your usual remit is a great way to develop new competencies. If working on a project with people from other teams, you’ll also hone important collaboration and problem-solving skills.

Our survey revealed 75% of professionals view on-the-job stretch opportunities as the most effective method of upskilling.

To find an opportunity, start a conversation with your boss. Often managers are the key to having your name put forward to be part of an internal project. Alternatively, be proactive and identify an area where your company could benefit from focused attention and what you could do to contribute.

Make sure you think through how working on a stretch project will impact your current workload before approaching your boss.

2. Stay plugged in

Follow industry leaders and thinkers via LinkedIn, TED Talks, YouTube feeds, Twitter and other social media.

Of the professionals we surveyed, 52% read articles or professional literature to keep up-to-date while 49% attend conferences, seminars or webinars and 33% listen to relevant online content such as TED Talks and podcasts.

A further 25% view content online shared by connections, while 23% read books and seek coaching and mentorships. 16% have joined a LinkedIn Group relevant to their sector.

Don’t forget to ask mentors and the colleagues you admire for recommendations.

3. Join an industry or professional association

Membership of a professional association or industry groups can tick a lot of the boxes for skills and career building.

Of our respondents, 22% were members of a professional organisation at the time of our survey.

Before joining an association, ask about its continuous learning program as well as networking events and even mentorship programs. Many associations offer reduced fees for those just starting out in a profession or industry so you don’t have to be an industry veteran to join.

4. Relevant courses outside of the workplace

Formal courses are used as a way to acquire knowledge and skills by 47% of our respondents but there is much to consider before you embark on any study.

According to research from consulting firm Deloitte, the half-life of learned skills is falling so make sure you research any potential course for its relevancy to your industry before signing up.

Consider short courses such as specialised certificates aligned closely to developing trends in your sector. There are also a plethora of online tutorials on how to use technology and software applications too.

Check out “Moocs” – the nickname for Mass Open Online Courses. Moocs allow you to study for free with some of the leading education institutions in the world. Some of the top tech companies also offer courses. While you probably won’t end up with a formal qualification, you will acquire the latest information impacting your sector.

5. Learn at work

Check out free self-learning modules offered by your employer. These courses generally reflect the skills an organisation wants its workforce to develop so acquiring skills and knowledge this way is not only free but also could raise your standing at work.

Peer-to-peer learning is a hot trend too. Ask a colleague to teach you a skill you want to acquire or set up a study group with colleagues. Peer-group learning sessions allow employees to learn from each other and explore relevant issues together, which can boost the learning process.

If you can generate enough interest amongst colleagues you could also suggest to your manager that a learning session be organised featuring a senior member of staff or that an industry leader be invited in for a lunchtime talk.

6. Career mapping

Career mapping can help you develop a plan for your career and focus your upskilling dollars and effort.

Career mapping is a tool that helps you plan where you want to go over time by creating goals and what you need to do to achieve them. The tool is also used by many companies to develop their workforce with the skills they need into the future.

According to our survey, 65% of professionals do not currently have a career map. The 35% of respondents that do have a career map say it has helped them choose the right skill building courses and activities.

Career mapping also makes it easier to pivot when necessary to align with changing trends in your industry.

7. Employer supported external study

If you want your employer to pay for tertiary study or a specialist course you must be able to explain how what you will learn will benefit your team or company. Bringing in new skills to your organisation and upskilling colleagues should be central to your pitch for support.

Like all skill building, do your homework to find out where the skill trends are heading for your role. This will ensure the knowledge you acquire is likely to stay in vogue for a while.

Also, think about courses that will build on your current skills to boost your job role or position you as a knowledge leader in your existing sector.

In our next article in this series we look at how you can showcase the skills you acquire to help land a new job or a promotion.