Some Tips on Upskilling

Here’s the text of a recent Irish Times article featuring Jane:

The rules of the working world have changed. Jobs for life, promotion based on seniority, doing the same thing year in, year out, are concepts that are quickly dying out. Employers are demanding more, employees are doing more for less and feeling lucky that they’re in a job.

The workplace has become more uncertain and more ruthless, but it has also become more flexible. Career hopping and lateral moves job-wise are greeted with more openness and positivity than in the past, and workers who take control of their destinies are seen as major assets.

Upskilling has become one of the buzzwords of the modern working world. Employers expect it, employees are realising that it’s a necessity, but what exactly does it mean to upskill?

“It can mean anything from the day-to-day learning of new skills in the workplace to going back to college and doing a masters degree,” says Jane Downes, author of The Career Book and Director of GoTo Career Coach Assessor Training. “For people who want to get ahead, upskilling is a no brainer, but for everyone else, coasting no longer cuts it. Standing still in your career simply doesn’t work.”

One of the biggest things that employers are seeking, according to Downes, is a demonstration of a potential employee’s willingness to learn. The workplace nowadays is a fluid entity, technology is becoming more sophisticated and with it, people’s roles and skill sets must change. “Organisations need people who are open to new skills and learning opportunities,” she says.

While a willingness to learn on the job is desirable, more and more people are going a step further and returning to education to boost their qualifications. This is a step that requires careful consideration of all the factors involved, but approaching an employer, if the qualification will add to what you can offer them, can be a worthwhile move.

“This is an area where Irish people often undersell themselves,” says Downes. “If you approach your employer about going back to education, you need to think not only about what the added qualification will do for you, but also what it will do for them. Educational institutions should really teach people how to sell their new qualifications to employers. If an employer sees that your effort to upskill will benefit them, they are more likely to be supportive either financially or in terms of flexibility or time off for exams.”

There is a huge amount to consider of course. Going back to education involves sacrifice of holiday time, family time, there are financial costs, added pressure of exams and assignments – these are things that people must weigh up for themselves.

“Certainly courses are becoming much more accessible thanks to the internet and flexible learning options,” Downes says. “Colleges are even acknowledging the financial difficulties people are having and putting flexible payment options in place.”

Of course, not every worker that wants to upskill wants to stay on the career path that they’ve established for themselves. Changing career has become a much more realistic option for many people, especially since the dawn of the recession.

“There are a lot of people who were tolerating a job because of the money or the security,” Downes says. “Now that those advantages are disappearing, people are looking around at what else is out there. I really believe that this is an opportunity for people to get a career that’s right for them.”

It’s a huge step to take and it takes work. Sometimes it’s tough to find the headspace to figure out what you want when you have work and life to get on with. Downes advises allocating time for yourself to plan your career.

“It takes a few hours a week,” says Downes. “You need to ask yourself what makes you happy? What are you unhappy with right now? What changes do you need to make to be content in your career? What sacrifices are you willing to make? The answers to those questions are specific to each individual but they take time.”

Often the idea of a career change whether an individual is working or has been made redundant, is very daunting. There is a perception that you will be starting from scratch all over again. This perception is misplaced according to Downes. “Think about every job you have ever done and the skills you have gained from each one,” she says. “These are skills that you carry with you, you don’t discard them with your old career. Nothing is wasted.”

Upskilling itself opens the mind of an individual. It is an essential for the modern career but it does not have to be a big deal. A short course will start the process, adding to skills and building the confidence of the person. It also signals intent, and that is important to employers.

“Employers need to see intent and a willingness to learn on a CV,” says Downes. “This is true for both unemployed people and people who are currently working. Upskilling is a reality of the working world now.”

Upskilling basics for the worker

  1. Prepare to allocate time to your career plan. You need time to research, network and simply to think about what you want. Work that time into your week.
  2. Network. Talk to people both in career areas that interest you and also people who have done courses that might suit you.
  3. If you find a course that interests you, use your allocated time to go in and meet the director of that course. Going back to education is a big commitment. You need to really do your research and make sure the course is for you.
  4. Do your research. Know what opportunities are out there. In the age of the internet, there is no excuse.
  5. Decide what level of course you are willing to do. Much of this will come down to your confidence and the time you’re prepared to commit.
  6. Consider the finances. If you can’t afford a full course, is there an option to do a module instead? Is there a short course that you can build on later?
  7. Make sure you have an eye on the bigger picture regarding your career. Know where the course you intend to do fits in to your overall career plan.

Upskilling basics for jobseekers

  1. Being out of work is a trauma. You need to give yourself a little time to accept what has happened, and then you need to move on.
  2. See this time as an opportunity to get your career working for you.
  3. There are so many networks and services available to people who are unemployed. The problem is that many people who find themselves in this situation are not accustomed to looking for help and have no idea what’s out there. Do your research, find the support and use it.
  4. Get visible. Don’t go underground. See upskilling and job seeking as a full-time job, however, don’t let it take over your life.
  5. Look at the available courses. The Springboard initiative offers higher education courses free of charge to unemployed people. also offers training to jobseekers.
  6. Remember that this is an opportunity to make a significant change if you wish to do so. Use the supports, don’t go underground, stay positive.

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