Upskilling in Your Job: Why It Matters + How to Start

It's not all about changing career paths to find a good life. Upskilling, or learning new job-related skills, has surged in recent years, and for many good reasons. Professionals can use their new abilities to transform a stagnant career, transition into an advanced role, take on new responsibilities, and command higher wages.

Employers also appreciate it when employees add to their skillset, as they have a more diverse workforce and can tap into the extra training to accomplish more, plus those who upskill are typically self-starters, so holding onto them is worthwhile. If you’re feeling “stuck” in your career, here’s how to determine if upskilling is right for you and how to get started if it is.

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Identify Which Skills are Valuable

Each industry, career path, and position will have unique skill requirements. Even those who hold the same title for similar employers may be expected to carry out different duties. For example, someone working in programming might need to know the Python for one position and PHP for another. An HR professional might be expected to be bilingual for one position and skilled with Excel or PowerPoint for another. However, there are skills that tend to be popular overall in each field as well as skills that a specific employer may value, and as you advance in your career hard skills are often assumed while soft skills, such as leadership and time management, gain increasing importance.

Talk to Senior Employees and Management

People who are higher up within your company will likely know which skills the company gives value to as well as what’s trending in your industry. They may also be able to tell you what additional skill training they’ve picked up and has served them well.

Review Job Posts to see what skills they require

Even if you love your employer and don’t plan to leave, it’s helpful to review job posts for your current position as well as those a level or two above where you are now. Keep a running list of skills they require or prefer in their job descriptions which you don’t currently possess and make a note each time one appears in a post. That way, you can target these skills on your own, either to boost your role at your current company or to ensure you’ve got a competitive resume should you choose to purse other options.

LinkedIn Premium (note I don't get paid to promote this) gives you insight into what skills other applicants for a role has, which can often shortcut your understanding of the skills that really matter for the role you are looking for.

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Network (MEET) with industry Peers

Whether you’re a fan of conferences, Facebook groups, LinkedIn groups, or belong to a professional organization, your peers may be able to point you in the right direction too. Oftentimes, those within the industry have insight into emerging trends, giving you the opportunity to pick up training before others do.

Consider the Most In-Demand Skills Across the Board

If you’re still not sure which skills will pay off, consider choosing one that isn’t industry-specific, but is still in high demand. For example, LinkedIn surveyed business leaders and discovered they’re looking for the following skills:

  • Leadership

  • Communication

  • Collaboration

  • Time Management  

Find Ways to Integrate Learning into Your Life

Most professionals in established careers have obligations beyond work, such as balancing family, social, and community duties. These things can make attending formal schooling a bit of a challenge, but thankfully, upskilling doesn’t typically require major time investments.

Speak with Your Manager or Human resources / people team

Larger companies often offer mentorship programs. By getting in with a mentor, you may be able to learn their job duties or pick up additional soft skills. If your company doesn’t offer this, check with a manager or someone in HR to see if they’ll create a program or give you the opportunity to shadow an employee who has skills you’d like to pick up. You can always proactively reach out to those you admire internally and see if they are open to a small mentorship commitment, which might look like one coffee a month for 30 minutes to discuss your career goals and to monitor your progression.

Attend Conferences and Workshops

Run a search for conferences and workshops in your area that will give you the opportunity to learn over an afternoon, day, or weekend. If the information is something your employer can benefit from, don’t hesitate to check with HR to see if the cost of attending can be subsidized or if your company would consider treating it as a workday. Conferences can allow you to meet people who are in a similar career area to you, and those people may give you an idea of the skills or attributes you can focus on to become a better professional in your area and accelerate your own career.

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Network with those that have mastered your desired skill

You probably know a few people in your field who are really great with at least one thing. Maybe you know a salesman who closes more deals than anyone else, an individual who gives flawless presentations, or a department manager who is consistently recognized for topping the others.

Take a moment to speak with the person, tell them what you appreciate about them, and offer a cup of coffee in exchange for a few moments of picking his or her brain about how they do it so well. You’ll be surprised by how many are flattered and will make the time to chat with you. This not only bodes well for picking up new skills, but also increases your network, which is beneficial when you’re looking for a promotion or want to shift companies.

Take Online Courses

Online courses come in all shapes and sizes. For example, some universities offer structured courses, while other options such as Skillshare allow you to pick up skills whenever you have time, be it on a lunch break or while killing time before a meeting.

JobGPS suggests relevant online courses on each career path page (in partnership with Skillshare), so you wll be able to know which areas you can focus on to enter that career or grow within it.

listen to Podcasts and Audiobooks

Do you have a lengthy commute or find yourself waiting with nothing to do from time to time? If so, you may be able to find audiobooks and podcasts that can teach anything from a foreign language to leadership, all in time that might otherwise be wasted.

Master one Skill at a Time and Repeat the Process

There’s no need to jump into a rigorous study program if you’re not changing careers entirely, so pick a single skill to learn at first. When you’ve finished the first one, you’ll have a good feel for what you can personally take on, making it easy to select the right learning method the next time around. In order to remain competitive and continue growing for your personal satisfaction, it’s best to find a schedule that works well for you and continue choosing new skills to tackle as you complete one.

In doing so, you’ll develop a life-long habit that will ensure you remain valuable to your company and that your resume stays on the top of the stack should you ever decide to look elsewhere.