Upskilling for Career Development and Progression

By Indeed Editorial Team

12 May 2021

Upskilling is an excellent way to make yourself a more desirable employee. Upskilling efforts can help you progress in your career or change fields. The upskilling process takes time and effort, but it is worthwhile pursuing the opportunities it presents. In this article, we will discuss upskilling, its benefits and how and when you should upskill.

What is upskilling?

Upskilling is the process of learning new professional skills. These skills may be hard skills, such as carpentry or data analysis, or soft skills, such as problem-solving or communication. These skills may relate to your existing role or a more advanced role in your industry. These new skills may also relate to a different industry you want to work in. Some of the ways you can upskill include:

  • Studying for a degree or certification

  • Completing professional development courses

  • Attending seminars, conferences and other networking events

  • Working with a mentor

  • Taking up a new hobby

  • Volunteering in your community

  • Reading industry journals and websites

Read more: Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills

Benefits of upskilling

Upskilling has the following professional and personal benefits:

  • Making you more employable: Employers favour candidates with a wide range of relevant or transferrable skills, often gained through upskilling.

  • Updating your knowledge: Many industries, including health, education and technology, are constantly evolving. Upskilling keeps you informed of these changes so you can follow the most current practices and remain relevant. Upskilling may even help you secure new roles as they emerge.

  • Qualifying you for specific professional opportunities: Some positions require certain degrees or certificates, which you can gain through upskilling.

  • Advancing your career: Upskilling teaches complex skills that you can use in senior roles. Gaining these skills shows you are proactive and could make you more likely to get promoted.

  • Helping you secure a pay rise: Upskilling can help you prove your worth to your company and ensure a higher salary.

  • Changing industries: Upskilling can also help you learn essential skills for careers in different industries. Your new skills show hiring managers that you're prepared for the challenges ahead.

  • Protecting your job: Upskilling helps your employers see your commitment to your role and improvement. This can help you retain your job during economic slowdowns and industry changes.

  • Boosting your self-confidence: Learning and mastering new skills improves your self-esteem, which can positively impact your mental health.

Read more: How to Overcome 4 Common Job Search Barriers

How to upskill

Taking a systematic approach to upskilling can help you focus your efforts and take the right steps to gain relevant and valuable professional skills. Follow these steps to upskill and develop in your career:

1. Determine desirable skills

Consider the skills that would help you achieve your career goals. List desirable hard and soft skills for your industry or the sector you want to work in. Then mark off any skills you already have. The remaining skills are the desirable skills you should work on through upskilling.

2. Research the best ways to obtain those skills

Once you know what skills your upskilling efforts should target, investigate the best way to obtain those skills. Search for industry-recognised courses and organisations that carry a level of prestige. For example, if you are waiting tables but want to be a bartender, getting your Responsible Service of Alcohol (RSA) certificate is often the best option. If you aren't confident speaking in public, joining Toastmasters could improve your verbal communication skills.

Online research is a great starting point. Join industry social media groups and ask the members for their recommendations. Browse relevant job postings and note the required and preferred skills and qualifications. You could also ask your supervisor, mentor or senior colleagues what upskilling courses or programs were beneficial for them. They may also suggest company initiatives that help employees upskill. These programs may grant upskilling employees time off or reimburse the costs of educational programs.

List the courses and programs you're interested in, and their associated costs and durations. When deciding what to pursue, consider the time and money required, any company allowances and how many different skills each program will develop.

3. Create a realistic upskilling plan

Creating a realistic plan can help you focus on your upskilling efforts. Your plan should note your upskilling goals and break down in small steps how to achieve them. Submitting enrolment applications and completing coursework are great steps to start with. Consider how much time each step will take to ensure your upskilling plan is realistic.

Make sure your plan maintains balance in your life. Your upskilling plan should leave enough time for your job, if applicable, existing social commitments and some leisure time. If you have limited time, focus on gaining one new skill at a time.

Think laterally when creating your plan. For example, if you have limited time during the day but a lot of free time at night and on weekends, studying a degree online may be a better alternative than attending classes. Completing a degree through part-time study takes up to twice as long as full-time study, but is often more manageable for full-time employees.

You may revisit your upskilling plan several times during your career. As new opportunities arise, revise your plan accordingly. You should also revise your plan to reflect your changing career goals or changes in your industry and its requirements.

4. Join a professional association

Join a professional association to access its upskilling opportunities, such as continuous learning programs and networking events. As these initiatives are usually only available to members, participating in them can help you separate yourself from other people in your field. Most professional associations have annual membership fees, but these are often discounted for people starting their careers.

5. Work hard to achieve your goals

Learning and retaining new knowledge and skills is just as important as gaining new qualifications. Complete all coursework to the best of your ability and study hard to maximise the impact of your upskilling efforts. A commitment to upskilling will display your willingness to persevere both professionally and personally, showing prospective employers that you have drive and passion for your work. Often training organisations will have scholarships or internships to offer to high-performing students, which will add to your resume and experience.

6. Seize upskilling opportunities as they arise

While an upskilling plan can help you stay focused, you should also remain flexible and seize any good upskilling opportunities as they arise. Volunteer for projects at work that give you more responsibility and the opportunity to develop new skills. Projects involving members of other departments are ideal, because you can learn from new people while developing your collaboration skills. Sign up for employee development programs that can teach you new skills.

Professional associations also advertise valuable upskilling opportunities for members. While these may not be included in your original upskilling plan, their exclusive nature and expert information make them worth considering. Consider what you have time for and ways you can adjust your plan, such as converting to part-time study, so you have time for workplace upskilling initiatives.

7. Update your resume

Add any new qualifications, associations and hobbies demonstrating new skills to your resume throughout your upskilling efforts. These new additions show employers your commitment to learning and improving your professional knowledge and skills.

Read more: 10 Best Skills to Include on a Resume

When to upskill

There are certain times when upskilling may be easier or more important in your career, which can include the following:

  • You are unemployed: When you are out of work and interested in entering the workforce, spend your time doing whatever you can to make yourself more employable. This is the ideal time for upskilling, as you typically have a lot of time to dedicate to learning new skills.

  • You have spare time: If you have spare time, upskilling can put it to good use. Consider enrolling in weekend workshops or online courses that you can complete outside working hours.

  • You have spare money: Enrolling in professional courses is a great investment in your future. You might decide to spend money on upskilling after reaching a savings goal or receiving an unexpected financial windfall.

  • You lack some desirable skills in your role or industry: Upskilling can help you gain new skills hiring managers look for in your industry. These skills may include skills you didn't originally need in your line of work, such as using specific software or technology.

  • You lack some skills people in higher roles have: If you want to progress in your career, gaining the new skills held by people in higher positions can help you. For example, you might take a project management course if you want to lead teams.

  • You want to change careers: Changing careers often means gaining new skills. Upskilling can teach you the skills you need to transition into a new field.