Whether you want to change jobs or prepare for the next-level role, the most important thing to know about upskilling is that every employee needs to be doing it all the time. Jobs are changing as business demands change, and employees are expected to prove their value with increasingly higher expectations. There are plenty of ways to educate yourself and upskill without going back for a traditional undergraduate or graduate degree. The author presents five ways to upskill without going back to school.
Recent layoffs aren’t just the result of an uncertain economy. They’re also the result of jobs changing more quickly than employees can upskill to meet business needs. With rapid changes in technology, including digitization and automation, the World Economic Forum projects that 50% of all jobs will require a change in skillsets by 2027. Therefore, it’s critical to own your upskilling to ensure you’ll be able to adapt to dynamic business needs. Without continuously growing your skills, you could become obsolete quicker than you realize.
There are plenty of ways to educate yourself and upskill without going back for a traditional undergraduate or graduate degree. Here are five ways to upskill without going back to school:
Many careers offer certifications to prove you have both a baseline understanding of what’s required in a job or a mastery of best practices in a certain field. For example, the Project Management Institute is globally recognized for its courses and PMP certification for project managers. Product School offers product management courses and certifications. SHRM and HRCI offer courses and exams to earn HR certifications. There are dozens of certifications for other jobs as well, such as business analytics, business processes, inbound marketing, and leadership.
Certifications show you have knowledge and capabilities in a certain field, which make them especially important if you’re transitioning careers and don’t have a lot of work experience in the new field. For example, when I was transitioning to my first human resources job, I had some transferrable skills that could be considered HR experience, but I had never worked in a traditional HR function. To prove I had the knowledge and understood the language of HR, I studied and passed the SPHR and GPRH certification exams. Having those certifications as part of my credentials helped me break through any hiring manager and recruiter assumptions that I had no HR skills and capabilities.
Online Learning Courses
There’s a wealth of learning platforms out there. LinkedIn Learning is one of the most recognized, but there are many others with courses that can take your functional and leadership skills to the next level. Coursera, edX, Open Culture, and Khan Academy are just a few online resources that offer free courses. You’ll also find free courses from some of the top schools in the United States, including MIT, Harvard, Yale, and Stanford.
While taking individual classes may not seem comparable to a four-year degree, showing you’re continuously learning and growing your skills is an attractive quality in an employee. The best way to showcase your relevant coursework is to add a “Continuous Learning” or “Continuous Education” section to your resume after your formal education.
Internships, Rotations, and Volunteering
Most internships, even paid ones, require that you be attending school. To qualify for many internships, you can register for a class at a local community college that would provide valuable knowledge in your field or the one you want to move into.
If you already have a full-time job, consider whether your boss would allow for a rotation in another area of the organization. When one of my employees was in night MBA school, she found her passion: data science. She was frustrated that she couldn’t intern like her classmates because was working in her current job to support her family. While I gave her as many analytics projects as I could muster, it still wasn’t true data-science experience. So, I offered that if she could secure an internship in our company’s data science department, I would cover her work for six weeks. She received an internship offer and on the day she went upstairs, I told her, “Don’t come back. There are four openings in that department, and I expect you to prove you deserve one of them.” She not only interned for that department, she landed a full-time job there immediately at the end of her internship.
This type of arrangement isn’t going to be feasible for every boss or company. Therefore, you may have to seek training on your own time. For example, if you want to move into accounting, consider joining a school board or nonprofit board, volunteering at your child’s school as treasurer, or setting up your own small company and taking on clients separate from your day job. Another way to gain experience is to find a small business or family friend who can provide you an opportunity to help with one of their work projects, which will allow you to gain practical skills in areas such as analytics, customer acquisition, social media, or marketing. Being paid is not a barometer for gaining new or higher-level skills when those skills allow you to contribute more toward advancing a company’s goals.
If you have the bandwidth, ask for work from another department at your organization. You’ll not only bring value to the company, you’ll also enhance your visibility. Stretch assignments teach you new or higher-level skills while also challenging you to demonstrate those skills to the people who gave you the opportunity. So even if the project itself isn’t highly visible, at least one person will know what you can achieve.
Importantly, this type of stretch assignment cannot interfere with your day job. And while you may be raising your eyebrow at doing extra work on the side, remember that the goal is to continue to uplevel your skills so you can be considered for the next opportunity — or be so valuable that the company can’t imagine functioning without you.
Mentors can provide so much more than a listening ear. The right mentor outside of your direct leadership or function will provide new perspectives on your work and how to uplevel your skills and challenge you to think differently.
When we’re heads down in our work, we don’t always realize the larger objective of assignments. If you find a mentor who is a senior leader in your organization, they’ll have deeper knowledge of the company’s growth trajectory and what capabilities will be needed as the company grows or shifts strategy. Even if your mentor isn’t sure of what hard skills are needed, mastering “soft” skills like cross-functional communication, complex problem-solving, stakeholder alignment, and inclusive leadership is what advances employees to higher levels. Having different perspectives on issues improves your thought leadership, which is critical in all jobs and will make you a viable candidate for future opportunities.
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Whether you want to change jobs or prepare for the next-level role, the most important thing to know about upskilling is that every employee needs to be doing it all the time. Jobs are changing as business demands change, and employees are expected to prove their value with increasingly higher expectations. Don’t be caught behind when you can uplevel your skills to move ahead.