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Why skill acquisition is your best bet for career success

Why skill acquisition is your best bet for career success
Grace Sweeney

Grace Sweeney

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Fear is a powerful emotion, especially when it comes to our jobs and our future — what will happen to us if we get left behind?

level up your skills

Sure, you’ve heard it all before — AI stands to put us all out of work. We’re being replaced by the latest batch of tech-savvy new grads. Or, we’re digitally transforming, pivoting to video, you get the idea.

It’s a common fear, someday becoming irrelevant. But, that’s not to say we should sit back and wait for obsolescence.

Handwringing over the robot revolution won’t help us stay competitive in a changing landscape, but a commitment to skill acquisition and development will.

Here are a few ways — both big and small for getting ahead of the curve.

Why skill acquisition is your best bet for career success

First of all, do you know where change is taking place?

Whether you’re a victim of an organizational pivot or freaking out over digital transformation, you know you need to learn some new skills, it’s just hard to know where to begin.

Learning new, relevant skills is the best way to bulk up your earning potential and provide more value to your employer or clients.

Start looking at the skills companies are starting to phase out. How much time do you spend on clerical work or manual data entry?

You should also take stock of who you currently work with and how you can bring more value to the table. What skills could turn you into an expert or allow you to sell multiple services?

For example, if you’re social media marketer that works with a lot of tech companies, you may want to take some online courses in things like web development or cloud computing.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that this is the career path for you — however, you’ll be more of an asset to your clients if you gain a deeper understanding of their space.

Spend time focusing on emerging skills


There are a million learning channels out there and topics on the verge of becoming the next set of must-have skills. According to this CIO piece, web development stands to be in high demand for the foreseeable future, so that could be a good bet. Other hot areas include data science, machine learning and AI, and digital marketing.

One way to do this is to start tracking the skills that the top companies in your industry are hiring for. Make a list of the qualifications that keep coming up.

The other way to kickstart the research process is by reaching out to people on LinkedIn that work in your industry or have your dream job. The point isn’t to awkwardly ask for jobs, rather, to find out how these high achievers put their winning skill set together.

And we get it, it may be pretty intimidating to ask people for help. But, in many cases, people are happy to connect and provide some advice. If they’re not — they’ll probably just ignore you anyway, so it’s not really the end of the world.

What if you don’t have any time?

Yeah. You’re probably already working full-time. Which, unfortunately, is somewhat at odds with the ability to pick up and learn a new skill.

A few years back, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Washington teamed up with Coursera to conduct a longitudinal study looking at the outcomes from online learning courses.

Encouragingly, they found many online learners from all over the world found that investing some time in MOOCs (massive open online courses) paid off in one way or another. For example, some users were able to demand higher wages, while others marked success by feeling better equipped to do their job.

Now, there were some caveats in the findings. For example, online learners from a less educated, less affluent backgrounds reported more tangible career benefits than those with more privileged situations. And older learners saw greater benefits than younger learners.

What we’re gathering from this is groups that had to make up more of a “difference” so to speak, benefitted most. Still, any new skill you can apply in the wild is valuable, no matter what socioeconomic bracket you’re in.

Level up in small ways during your free time

We get it – you’re short on time. You don’t have the budget to squeeze in a few sessions at the local university.

However, there are countless ways to keep up with the changing workplace environment, without much commitment at all.

Webinars, online tutorials, and courses are all available within a few clicks. There are podcasts, industry publications, blogs to check out — even making a commitment to read more makes a difference.

There’s also a ton of certifications offered through sites like Hubspot or Google, which provide instruction through a series of video lessons and an exam afterward.

Look for synchronous experiences

Again, there’s Coursera, Lynda, and others – all designed to help you improve your skills from coding to brushing up on your marketing savvy. But, most of these models are asynchronous, meaning they’re largely self-directed. The point is two-fold — the companies offering these courses can do so on a massive scale. And digital learners can make it work for their busy schedules. A real win-win, right?

Well, not so much.

You’ve got to be a self-starter to a high degree if you want to reap the benefits, and for most of us, it’s hard to muster the energy to complete these free courses.

Synchronous learning experiences, though rarer on the web, offer some social interaction and accountability built-into the online experience.

While these might be harder to find in the form of a free MOOC, consider looking at universities that offer online courses. Look at your local institutions; many offer certificate programs and courses for professional adults.

Because you’d be paying for the experience, you’ll find more of a hands-on approach, even if you’re taking classes online. Group chats, projects, and forums can make all the difference and can anchor you to the class a bit more.

Or look for a skills boot camp

Skills boot camps aren’t free either, but they’re cheaper than getting a certificate or a degree in many cases and serve as a way to teach people things like how to code.

Though Wired predicted the coding boot camp bubble would burst back in 2016, professionals can still get a lot of bang for their buck (and their time) by enrolling in a program.

Take, for example, General Assembly, which offers a variety of skills boot camps both online and in several cities. Or Datacamp, Byte Academy, among others, that offer programs in coding, as well as data science, project management, marketing, and more. These programs provide a way for late-career workers to gain in-demand skills and can lay the groundwork for a career change.

What’s more, according to data from Indeed, over 70% of employers think that boot camp graduates are just as capable as their degree-holding counterparts.

Final Thoughts

Professional development does take time, but it’s the price you must pay to avoid getting left behind in an era where chatbots reign supreme and automation is accessible to just about anyone with access to a SaaS subscription.

If now isn’t the right time for a boot camp, do some extra reading and catch all of those digital marketing certificates offered free on the web.

Grace Sweeney

Grace Sweeney

Grace is a painter turned freelance writer who specializes in blogging, content strategy, and sales copy. She primarily lends her skills to SaaS, tech, and digital marketing companies.

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