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How Upskilling Advances Your Career

Given the rapid pace of digital transformation and evolving market trends, job roles and requirements are changing fast. What can you do to stay ahead of the curve?

Make sure you have the skills you need!

That means ongoing learning to make yourself a valuable employee. It means ongoing upskilling to be the kind of employee your company just can’t do without.

What is upskilling?

Upskilling means building on or expanding your existing skill set. This helps you get better at your job and stay up to date with new technology and trends. It prepares you for new opportunities. And it helps you move forward on your career path.

Upskilling is a kind of continuous learning. Over the course of your career, your continuous learning journey might also include reskilling and cross-skilling, which are similar to upskilling.

Reskilling means learning entirely new skills, sometimes in a different field. Cross-skilling or cross-training means building skills that let you branch out into other roles. These are roles your employer needs, but in areas different from your current position.

Continuous learning through upskilling, cross-skilling, and reskilling: An example

Marco is the front desk receptionist at a chain hotel. He might choose to:

  • Upskill by learning new hotel-booking software. This will improve guests’ check-in experiences.
  • Cross-skill by taking an event management certificate. The new skills he learns will help him branch out and help organize events at the hotel.
  • Reskill by attending a course on digital marketing and social media management. His goal might be to get a job in the marketing department, where he will manage the hotel’s online presence and engage with guests on social media.

Why is upskilling important?

The world of work is changing. With the rise of technology, an uncertain economy, and an estimated 30% of jobs at risk of automation, future-proofing your career is essential. In the midst of all this change, upskilling can help you:

  • Keep pace with workplace trends and changing job requirements
  • Increase your value as an employee (and your chances of a raise or a promotion)
  • Increase your job security
  • Make your work feel more rewarding
  • Add a new rung to your career ladder
  • Advance on your career path
  • Stay marketable

Today’s employers are shifting toward skills-based hiring. They’re placing more and more value on traits like flexibility, adaptability, and a willingness to grow. And workers are paying attention. A recent study found that more than a quarter of Canadians are already upskilling, and almost half are evaluating their skills to make sure they’re up to date.

How to get started

1. Define your goals

As with any type of learning, the first step is to identify your goals. What do you aim to achieve by upskilling? For example, you may be looking to:

  • Improve a particular skill because technology has changed how you do your job
  • Protect yourself from layoffs
  • Position yourself for a promotion
  • Be more efficient
  • Increase your earning power
  • Make your job more interesting

Take some time to create a vision for the future you want.

2. Identify your skills gaps

Once you’ve set some goals, identify the knowledge or skills you’ll need to achieve them. Then figure out where your current skills fall short.

Consider these questions when identifying your skills gaps:

  • What specialized or work-specific skills would make you better at your job? What skills would make you more valuable to your organization?
  • How will your job and the skills you need change in the coming years?
  • If you’re looking for a promotion, what skills will you need to handle your new responsibilities?
  • What are the emerging trends in your industry? What skills will you need to keep up with a changing labour market?

3. Hone your core skills

The Government of Canada’s Skills for Success Model identifies 9 skills that are key to success in any role—in any industry. These include:

  • Core literacy skills (reading, writing, and numeracy)
  • Soft skills (problem solving, communication, collaboration, and adaptability)
  • Digital skills
  • Creativity and innovation

A recent report by the Conference Board of Canada investigated the relationship between specific skills and increased income. The most valuable skills included troubleshooting, time management, reading comprehension, and monitoring organizational and human performance.

Workplace trends also point to an increasing need for digital skills, leadership skills, soft skills, and analytical skills.

4. Research learning opportunities

Once you’ve defined your goals and figured out what you need to learn, it’s time to research your learning options. Many kinds of learning are free. And many employers offer funding for upskilling courses and conferences.

Upskilling can get you a tax break

If you upskill at a post-secondary institution, you can claim a Tuition Tax Credit. If you’re between 25 and 65, you may also be eligible for the Canada Training Credit, which allows you to claim up to $250 on your tax return.

Employer-sponsored learning

Start by looking into on-the-job learning and in-house training options. These might include:

  • In-house courses or workshops
  • Formal or informal mentoring or coaching (Look for mentors and coaches outside your workplace too.)
  • Lunch-and-learns
  • Unusual projects or “stretch opportunities” that let you challenge yourself

External and self-directed learning

Many learning options are also available outside the workplace. For example, you could:

  • Take a course—in-person or online. Websites like Coursera and edX offer free online courses on a huge range of topics. Many postsecondary institutions offer in-depth courses or certificates in-person or online. There is usually a fee.
  • Investigate micro-credentials. These are short, focused courses that equip you with specialized skills. Micro-credentials are offered by companies, polytechnics, colleges, universities, professional associations, and other organizations. The courses are not free, but they can be more cost-effective than longer-term learning options.
  • Attend a webinar or online workshop. Many industry associations and organizations conduct free webinars.
  • Join an industry or professional association or attend industry events. Membership and conference fees are often pricey, but the learning and networking opportunities can be invaluable.
  • Follow professionals in your field. Use TEDx Talks, LinkedIn, YouTube, and social media to stay up to date on current topics.
  • Read widely. Reading boosts your knowledge and creativity. It allows you to explore ideas in depth and helps you understand “the big picture.”

5. Create a learning plan

A written learning plan can help you stay focused. It can also help you stay job smart and take charge of your learning.

Make sure your learning plan includes:

  • The specific skills you want to learn or improve, in order of priority
  • The courses, resources, or pathways you plan to use to learn these skills
  • Realistic timelines and deadlines

An ongoing journey

Upskilling is an important part of career planning. And it isn’t a one-time event.

As your situation and goals change, so do the skills that will serve you best. Ongoing upskilling will help you make the most of new opportunities throughout your career.

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