Charles Darwin once wrote that “it is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” Being able to adapt and change with the times is an essential skill for every working professional. The skills we learn in school, the knowledge we acquire from a lifetime of experience: they aren’t all evergreen. Sometimes we need to upgrade ourselves, much in the way we sometimes have to soup up an old car or install a new OS on a sluggish computer. That’s where upskilling comes in.
What Is Upskilling?
Skills aren’t static and unchanging. New technologies get developed, innovations occur, old ways of doing things fall into obsolescence. In these moments where a gap forms between what we know and what we need to know, upskilling comes in handy. Upskilling means to learn new skills and/or update old ones. As industries and fields of expertise evolve, workers must evolve with them if they want to remain competitive.
Upskilling can help you prepare for a new career path or make it easier to transition into a new role or responsibility in your current job. It can also provide you with essential training to make you a more well-rounded professional by teaching you the kinds of soft skills (like critical thinking, communication, and public speaking) that are highly in-demand across many industries. For businesses, upskilling is critical because it helps them address skill gaps in their workforce.
Why You Should Upskill
Accepting that you need to upskill can be hard at times. We put so much time and effort into educating ourselves that it can be frustrating to think we have to “start all over again” but that’s the thing about education: it’s a continuous process of self-improvement. Being willing to change and learn something new is one of the best career skills you can develop.
“Sometimes change is forced upon us,” said Gina Pinch, Rio Salado College Faculty Chair for Business, Management, and Public Administration. “Think about the number of changes you had to make - both personally and professionally - during the recent pandemic.”
Surveys have found that 81% of businesses consider a willingness to learn to be a top priority. The person who says, “Yes, I will,” and rises to the challenge of upskilling will be more likely to keep their job or find a new one than a worker who resists it.
Can My Employer Help Me Pay For It?
The good news about upskilling is that oftentimes it can be covered in full or in-part by your employer. It’s usually in an employer’s best interest to train up staff, which is why many companies form partnerships with schools and offer training programs that fund education for their workers. If you’re thinking of going back to school to learn a new skill or enhance your expertise in an existing skill set, talk to your employer to see if they offer tuition benefits, scholarships, or career training. An added benefit of employer-backed education is that they’ll usually work with your schedule, which can make balancing your work and learning commitments a bit easier.
What Kinds Of Upskilling Opportunities Are There?
Upskilling can take a variety of forms. Sometimes it could be a single workshop or a handful of classes. It could be a professional certification course (like getting certified in a technical skill like web design/development). Upskilling could involve completing a 2-year degree program, a certificate of completion program, or even a 4-year degree. Another attractive option for career education are microcredentials: shorter programs that can help you develop a core competency in a specific field of study.
In many cases, going back to school is a wise career move in the long run. Workers with degrees tend to earn higher wages than those without them. And even if your current upskilling efforts don’t pay off dividends in your current job, it could provide you with skills and an accomplishment to add on your resume that may make it easier for re-careering into a different field sometime down the line.
Do not forget that adult education is a form of upskilling. If you didn’t graduate from high school and want to earn your high school equivalency diploma, going back to school and earning that can put you on the road to completing a 2-year or 4-year degree in the future.
How To Take The Initiative
When it comes to upskilling, it’s better to take the initiative and work toward closing a skills gap than waiting for your employer or the changing tide of an industry to push you toward it. Which begs the question: how do you know what to learn? There’s a few principles you can use to help keep yourself clear-eyed and honest about what you need to learn:
- Stay up to date on your field. Put in the time to learn about new developments in your field. Go to networking events and read trade publications to find out what’s happening. Pay attention to what your co-workers are doing. Are they seeking out new skills? What do they know that you don’t? If you have a mentor, they can be a great resource in offering an outside perspective on what you can do to improve and hone your professional repertoire.
- Take a personal inventory. Take a close look at yourself and honestly examine your skill set. What are you good at? Where do you fall short? In what areas can you improve? It’s important to think beyond the core skills you use for your work; do you also have interpersonal skills that make you a better co-worker and collaborator?
- Examine your goals. Where do you see yourself professionally in the next five years? Ten? Twenty? Having an idea of where you want to be in the future can help you identify your skill gaps. If you’re looking for a promotion or you’re interested in transitioning into a new field, that can help you determine the kind of training and/or credentials you’ll need to qualify for those roles.
- Make time for learning. Education is a major time commitment. It’s not just the classes but the studying and practicing and reading that comes with it. Set yourself up for success by making sure you have enough time in your schedule to honor your work, personal, and educational obligations. If you live with family or roommates, tell them you plan to take classes and establish (within reason) “office hours” where you can be focused on learning so you won’t be disturbed.
“You also want to look at the course modality,” Pinch said. “Based on your schedule and personality, would online, in-person or hybrid classes suit you best?”
- Understand that it’s an on-going process. This may not be the last time you go back to school. The world is constantly changing, so it’s best to maintain a flexible mindset. The good habits you establish now with your upskilling efforts will serve you well in future efforts (professional, educational, and otherwise).
Article by Austin Brietta
For more blogs in our career series, check out these stories:
- Keep Your Side Hustle From Sidelining Your Job
- How To Work From Home Without Making Your Home Feel Like Work
- Join a Professional Association to Advance Your Knowledge