By Quincy Smith
It’s never too late to learn something new and taking time to improve your skill set, reinforce old skills, and train for new opportunities will help you future proof your career.
Whether you have your eyes on a new career path, or you simply want to keep your finger on the pulse when it comes to your current role, upskilling is a way to stay on top.
In this article, we’re going to be sharing some upskilling tips that’ll help you to increase your value to your current and future employers.
Let’s get started!
What is upskilling?
Upskilling is the process of continuously developing and diversifying your current skill set, in order to help you get better at your current job or become better qualified for a new one.
The term upskilling can refer to anything from teaching yourself to be proficient in a new tool, technique, or platform or learning a whole new skill that is totally separate from your current role.
Whether you’re hoping to climb the ladder at your current job or find a different opportunity entirely, proper upskilling is a great way to increase your chances of success.
Below are some tips to help you to get started with your upskilling journey, including how to research, plan, and set realistic goals while balancing the needs of a full time job.
Professional improvement is a marathon, and people who don’t do their planning run the risk of getting burned out or worse — not learning anything at all.
Here’s where to start to ensure you make progress while also maintaining your sanity:
Focus on the job you want
When you first get started with upskilling, you may feel eager and to get involved in just about anything that you can add to your resume.
However, this is unlikely to be the best way to go about it. Instead of acquiring random skills that may or may not help your future employment opportunities, it’s a better idea to focus solely on upskilling for the job you actually want.
In our opinion, the absolute first thing you need to do is have a long hard think about where it is you want your career to go, and exactly what skills you need to get there. Take a look at your desired career trajectory, use Glassdoor or LinkedIn to explore the necessary requirements, and use those as the basis for your planning.
If you’re working full-time then you already know that your time is limited, and it’s important to ensure that every course you take and every hour spent building your portfolio is useful to you going forward.
Look for internal opportunities to grow
A great way to upskill with minimal effort (i.e. no courses) is to learn from the people around you at work. If you’re looking to learn more about a particular role, or you want to get an insider look at a certain department and how it all works, don’t be afraid to ask.
Shadowing other people or participating in trainings are great ways to explore new roles without much commitment. Managers love to see employees that are keen to personally develop in the workplace, and as long as it doesn’t affect your current workload too much, your managers are likely to be keen for you to get involved.
Also, showing an interest and a willingness to learn and grow is a great way to support your application if you choose to apply for a job internally in the future.
Take an open-ended course
One of the best ways to upskill is to take courses alongside your regular workload to develop (or get certified in) the skills that you are looking to improve.
However, as we mentioned earlier, it’s important that your learning doesn’t impact your current job or push you to the brink of burnout. That’s why open-ended courses are much better for full-time workers.
Open-ended courses mean that you can complete the course as fast or as slowly as you want. If you’re swamped with work, you can take a week off and pick it back up when you’re ready.
This relieves any of the pressure of completing the course on a strict deadline and means you can take time to really focus and develop the skills that the course is teaching.
Finding courses has never been easier, and sites like Skillshare allow you to access tons of courses on topics from digital marketing to web development — and bootcamps offer more intensive options if you’ve got the time.
If you want to take part in courses that are professionally recognized in your field, do some research into which are seen as the industry standard for your chosen job role.
Build a portfolio
When it comes to applying for jobs where you have no prior experience, it’s important to do what you can to showcase your skills. In a study by Global Focus on what employers think of portfolios, one employer wrote “it just provides that terrific additional depth that you can’t really put on a CV.”
Even if you have no professional experience in the job you’re applying for, you can easily stand out by showing employers what you can do.
What you put in your portfolio will depend on the type to which you’re applying. For example, if you’re looking to get hired as a developer, building an application that shows off your skills would work. Or, if you’re looking to try your hand at design, make sure to have your designs up on Dribbble and include the link on your resume.
Whatever you include in your portfolio, make sure that it backs up your resume and supports the different skills that you’ve gained throughout your upskilling journey.
Find a mentor
Finding a mentor will really help you to stay on track with your upskilling goals, as well as help keep you accountable when it comes to your goals and progress.
When choosing a mentor, there are some things you should look for:
- Has experience in field/role you want to work in
- Has a wide network of contacts in your chosen field
- Has time to provide you with real, constructive feedback
The best mentors will have all of the above, but don’t spend too much time trying to check each box — a mentor is a bonus and not a requirement.
While finding someone you can meet with in person (or even better, that works with you) is ideal, there are plenty of online communities that can serve as pseudo-mentors if you’re willing to put yourself out there.
For example, Reddit has communities (called Subreddits) that focus on just about every area of professional development — they are free to join and provide an easy option if you’re looking for feedback but can’t find a proper mentor.
Another option is LinkedIn — this is a bit more public, as your name will be attached to it (Reddit is anonymous), but it’s a great platform to share updates, track progress, and get feedback from your existing network.
Where to start when it comes to upskilling
When it comes to upskilling, you should try to start with a clear goal in mind. It’s much better to have a skill set that is perfect for a specific job, rather than have a bunch of courses and extra experience that isn’t aligned to the job you want.
Here are the steps we’d take if we were looking to upskill with a full-time job:
- Decide on the job you want and then research it — you want to know exactly what the requirements are so that you can figure out how you’re going to meet them.
- Research courses and start setting micro goals — if you know you’re going to need to learn two new skills, try to find the courses for each as well as how long each will take.
- Start drafting a timeline — this will evolve over time, but it’s important for you to anticipate needing three months or six months or even 12 months to accomplish your training.
- Look into mentors — this could be internally at your current company or externally via your network. The goal here is to kick the tires so that you have someone (or even a Facebook or Reddit group) to bounce ideas off of as you progress.
- Take your target skills, courses, and timeline and set realistic goals — start with an intended start date and work in weekly and monthly increments. Make sure to be flexible!