Learning a new skill to ensure your career stays on track is both logical and prudent. Our world continues to change at a record pace and the only way to stay relevant is to be in continuous learning mode. But how do you execute on this idea?
Keep in mind, we aren’t just learning, we are ’skilling,’ meaning gaining the ability to apply what we’ve learned for business needs. Notice that nouns related to the word ’learn’ have turned into action verbs – skilling, reskilling, upskilling. Using these words as verbs reminds us that we cannot simply attend a class and call ourselves ready for a new business challenge. While learning helps up understand a concept mentally and abstractly, skilling ensures we can correctly apply knowledge to execute a task.
A strong and detailed action plan will help you put your good intentions about learning and upskilling into practice. This action plan is called the learning plan. It is the roadmap that will take you from early market research and identification of desired skills to establishing your priorities and keeping you on track throughout your learning journey. While a plethora of learning plan formats and features are available online, we encourage you to consider creating a robust plan that is comprehensive and inclusive of all aspects of your goals. Here are some steps you can include in your learning plan to set yourself up for success.
research market needs
Researching and understanding what is needed in your desired field of work is foundational when building a learning plan. It’s important to define skills and experience that are in demand now, in addition to gaining ideas about emerging trends relevant to your desired roles. To conduct this research, leverage information from your current or most recent company, data and research from the professional associations in your field and information found through online searches.
A search of open job advertisements is a good place to start identifying the skills required for your desired position. For example, a search on a popular job board for the position ’virtual trainer’ brings up several unique job advertisements with a wide array of training types. A quick review of all the ads shows several shared themes related to skills and requirements:
- clear written and verbal communication skills
- teaching and curriculum development experience
- confidence and professionalism
- time management and scheduling
- technical proficiency: Zoom, Facetime, training technology and wide variety of software
- virtual management of large groups
These requirements are in addition to the general subject-matter expertise required based on the type of position (e.g., medical/patient services, IT services, help desk support, sales). On top of the skills and attributes, several ads ask for professional training certifications. In this case, the Certified Professional in Learning and Performance is often the named certification of preference.
Meeting market demands is foundational to your success. Pursuing your passions is good for self-fulfillment but if the skills of that passion are not in demand, career success is less likely.
consider your priorities and investment level
Any individual considering taking on a learning program also needs to consider their personal level of commitment and other priorities in their life. Identify how much time and energy you are willing to invest in a course or program. Be realistic about the other demands on your time such as family and community obligations, household responsibilities, work requirements, personal priorities and even the pets that depend on you daily.
Think about your priorities in career and life. Will you be able to commit to the requirements of a course? Will you have the time, wherewithal and motivation to complete the course and effectively engage with the content so you truly can learn the material? For example, the exam to attain the Certified Professional in Learning and Performance credential mentioned above will require about three hours. However, the recommended preparation for the exam includes participation in a 12-week study group in addition to time spent with the extensive reading materials.
Many people also take courses associated with the topic and attend development conferences to build up the knowledge needed to pass the certification exam. For courses that have associated costs, validate whether the financial investment works for your budget and that the return on your investment (i.e., salary) is worth the financial investment in the courses.
what is your why?
A direct link to considering the investment and priorities is identifying the ’why’ behind pursuing learning. Be sure you have clear goals and a clear and tangible outcome. What will these new skills offer to you in both the near and far term? Are these skills required to help you maintain relevancy in your career path? Will you discover a completely new and potentially lucrative career path? Do you get excited when you think about the opportunities that come with closing skill gaps? What will your personal – intangible – reward be for pursuing and achieving your learning goals?
For example, perhaps a training certification will help you establish credibility in a competitive market. Or maybe you expect to gain traction in an emerging industry that needs training expertise over subject-matter expertise. You may identify as a lifelong learner and relish the knowledge and insight that comes with learning new subjects.
rank your current skills
Take note of the skills, attributes and certifications identified in your market research. Identify which of these you possess and where you have gaps. Finally, rank your level of experience and expertise in each area. Compare this ranking to the requirements of your desired position.
Using the virtual training role example above, perhaps you are strong in many of the identified skill areas but lack a training certification and maybe haven’t had to design training curriculum for quite some time. In considering the information you uncovered in the market research, ask yourself how important and how urgent it is to close those two gaps to secure the position you want.
Once you’ve identified your skill gaps, outline the different learning resources available. Countless resources are available for learning online. These include recorded and live online courses, learning platforms such as LinkedIn Learning and Udemy, programs and certificate courses offered through both private companies (e.g., Microsoft) and professional associations, traditional academic courses and MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), which are free online courses and content on sites such as YouTube.
Review each of the resources to identify and rank the level of learning you can expect to gain with each offering. You will likely notice clear winners in terms of which courses or program offerings will provide the right level of education for your needs and goals.
SMART goals and accountability
Make use of SMART goals in your learning plan to document your intentions and the steps required to accomplish it all. Some goals may have layers of goals or goals that build upon each other. The SMART goal format enables you to identify each aspect of a goal and the milestones along the way.
SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. Using the example of the virtual trainer, we might set a SMART goal in this way:
Specific and Measurable: Earn the Certified Professional in Learning and Performance credential through Association of Talent Development.
Attainable: I have the financial means to pay for the exam and preparation courses and can schedule the group study sessions for hours that are otherwise open for hobbies.
Relevant: This certification will allow me to pursue an internal promotion within my company (or market myself to a wider array of positions in my industry.
Time-bound: I will register for orientation and group study sessions by the end of the month and will complete the exam by the end of this year.
In addition to setting goals, it is important to establish a means of accountability to help you power through those moments that you find challenging and to keep you on track overall. A study done by Gail Matthews at the Dominican University of California demonstrates the power accountability in goal setting. The study found that people achieved a 76% success rate when they took multiple steps in pursuit of goals, including writing goals down, engaging in action steps, becoming outcome focused and telling a friend (or accountability partner) about the goal and the progress along the way.
The bottom line is that we know when people write down their goals, take actionable and methodical steps towards achieving these goals and work with someone they trust, the more likely they are to achieve their goals. Your accountability partner might be a friend, family member, mentor or a professional coach.
tying it together
Once you have each of these elements in place, it will be easier to pursue your goals. You can use the learning plan as your guide to ensure you stay on track and as a reference when you begin to question the process. You may find you need to adjust things along the way to account for major shifts in the job market or societal norms (such as the current situation with the COVID-19 pandemic impacting the job market). Stay flexible enough in your thinking so that when you do need to pivot, you are able to figure out the new right way of doing things.
Remember, ensuring you possess the right skills for your career isn’t about merely taking classes. It is about creating and following a strategic roadmap to give yourself both the opportunity and ability to meet market demands and support your career goals. At Randstad RiseSmart, we encourage you to embark on a learning journey with purpose and clarity.