'Upskilling' might sound painful but the fact is that, in the moveable feast that is the modern workforce, he or she with the most skills wins. But which skills are best, and how do you go about getting them? Allison Tait finds out.
A few years ago, the word 'upskill' didn't even exist. Now, it seems that everyone's doing it and those who don't risk being left behind.
According to the new Oxford Business English Dictionary for Learners of English, 'upskill' is a verb meaning 'to teach new skills; to learn new skills'. The authors believe that the word was probably formed 'through a comparison with the verb upgrade, in the sense of 'to make a piece of machinery, computer system, etc, more powerful'.'
And it seems that they're right on the money. In the moveable feast that is the modern workforce, he or she with the most skills wins. Employers are looking beyond the basic degree or trade qualifications you might need to get your foot in an industry door for that something extra.
"Upskilling is another way of looking at the concept of lifelong learning," says Valerie Khoo, corporate trainer at the Sydney Writer's Centre. "The world is constantly evolving and so we need to continually adapt. If we don't, we'll be stuck in the past and those who do upskill will have a competitive advantage."
Life passing you by?
There are a few obvious signs that it might be time to consider brushing up on a few skills. One is that the promotions you expect to be yours are going to other people. "If you see your peers moving up the career ladder faster than you, it might be time to consider what's holding you back," says Khoo.
Getting the skills to take you to the next level is not just a matter of hitting the books, however, or popping along to a course. Kirsten Daly, co-director of Sydney's Talent Career Group and a specialist in leadership development, believes that we are about one-third of the way through the transition from the old to the new in terms of building a learning culture. At the moment, most of us are still waiting for others to 'train' or 'upskill' us, or only do it because we have to. Daly sees a new picture emerging.
"The ultimate learning culture is where the individual takes responsibility [for their own upskilling]," says Daly. "They are always thinking about the impact of their role and the future of their role and will keep an eye on the trends and upskill accordingly."
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Which skills should I focus on?
One way to work out what skills you might need is to take a good look at people who are already in the roles that you want. "Determine what skills they have and ask yourself how this compares to the skills you have," says Khoo. Then simply fill in the gaps.
Alternately, focus on transferable skills that is, those that you can apply readily across roles, and even industries.
"Most skills are transferable," says Khoo. "But there are some that stand out." Think organisational and administration, sales and marketing, and finance and accounting, just to name a few.
"Without a doubt, one of the most valuable skills you need is good written and verbal communication skills," says Khoo. "The reality is that you can be technically brilliant in a particular area, but if you can't communicate effectively with clients and colleagues it will definitely hold you back."
One thing you can be certain of is that any new skill is a good skill to have. "There's no such thing as having too many skills," says Khoo.
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