Want a promotion? Looking for a new job? Maybe you’re mulling an entire career change? Or do you just want to increase your value overall?
Upskilling is the solution to many career ailments.
But what exactly is upskilling, and how do you go about it?
That’s what this article is for. I’ll give you an upskilling definition, outline the benefits that happen when you upskill, and get you set up to start upskilling right away.
What is upskilling?
Upskilling involves picking up new skills relevant to your industry or chosen career path, making you a more valuable asset for where you work now, or where you’d like to work in the future.
Upskilling is not the same as learning an entire new set of skills—typically, when you upskill you focus on one or two skills in particular that will add value to whatever it is you do.
Upskilling vs. Reskilling
You may come across the concept of “reskilling” as you research upskilling, but they aren’t the same thing.
Upskilling involves picking up new skills to perform your existing job in a different, more valuable way—whether that’s within the company you work at now, or in a different company.
Reskilling involves learning new skills to perform a different job within your same company.
For example, if you’re working as a sales executive right now, you might upskill to learn how to use a AI for lead generation, or pick up management skills so you can lead a new team.
If you undergo training so you can stop working as a sales representative and instead move to the digital marketing team, that would be reskilling.
The benefits of upskilling
Upskilling can be hard work, especially if the skill you’re picking up takes a lot of training and practice to get it off the ground.
But there are two major benefits to upskilling that make it worthwhile. Here’s what you have to look forward to:
Upskilling to get a new job
Thinking about changing jobs? Hoping your next role will be more enjoyable with better pay? Then upskilling is a great option.
You can choose specific skills to learn that will look great on your resume and make you a prized candidate for new jobs you’re applying to. In fact, one of the best ways to learn which skills you should choose for your upskilling journey is by looking at job postings you’d like to have, and finding common requests for specific skills.
If you’re thinking of changing jobs soon, here are more resources you might find valuable:
Upskilling to get a promotion
One of the most common reasons people decide to upskill is because they are going after a promotion. Many businesses will offer upskilling to employees specifically so they can take on a new, higher-payed role (which is often a lot easier than finding someone new from outside the company).
If you plan to follow this path, make sure you have a conversation with your current employer about the concept. Ask them what specific skills you’d need to pick up to land the job, and float the idea of having them sponsor or help you to get there.
Here are more resources about seeking promotions:
Types of upskilling to consider
If you’ve decided upskilling is for you, you have lots of options for how you to proceed. Let’s break down the different types of upskilling you can consider, depending on your specific goals.
Upskilling your technical skills
Technical skills aren’t just for folks who work in IT. Many jobs require specific digital, mechanical, or physical skills that can increase your value. Typically, this involves going through some sort of training or mentorship to pick up the skills (which we’ll cover more later in this article).
The skills you pick up will depend largely on what it is you do. But here are a few technical skills to consider. Which of these might make you a more desirable asset for your current or future jobs?
Search Engine Optimization
Social media management
If you work at a non-digital job, the technical skills you can pick up will largely depend on what you do. For example, someone who works as a carpenter might take a course on floor installations, so they can add that to their suite of services.
Upskilling your soft skills
Soft skills cover just about everything else you need to get a job done, from leadership skills to your ability to pay attention to detail. Sometimes, it makes more sense to focus on upskilling your soft skills to increase your value. While there may be some formal training you can go through to get these skills, mentorship, coaching, or hands-on experience are often necessary here.
We have a full soft skills list if you are looking for inspiration, but here are a few of the different areas you might want to focus on:
Hiring & training
How to start upskilling: A step-by-step guide
Upskilling might take time, but the sooner you get started, the sooner you’ll be able to use your new skills to advance your career.
Here’s a walkthrough of how you can start looking for upskilling opportunities right away.
Identify knowledge gaps: Know what you need to learn
The first step is an obvious one: You have to identify which skill to focus on to get you where you want to be with your career.
I already mentioned a great place to start looking: job postings.
Scan these and see what specific skills are required, and use that to guide you toward an upskill plan that works for you.
If you are upskilling but plan to stay in your current job, then your manager or colleagues are likely a good place to start researching.
Ask others what skills are missing on the team, or consider what abilities others have that you don’t. You can also look at job descriptions at your current company for roles you’d like to have, and focus on the skills required.
Finally, ask yourself these questions about your upskilling choices:
What skills will I enjoy learning?
When has my lack of skills held me back in my career?
How much additional income could I potentially have with this skill?
What current skills do I have that will lend themselves to this new ability?
What is the longevity of this skill? Will it still be relevant in 1-5 years?
How long will it take me to learn this skill?
What is my backup plan if I start learning this skill and decide it’s not right?
Choosing your upskilling methodology
You know which skill you want to focus on, so now… how do you actually learn it? There are several different options you can pursue.
Here’s what to consider:
Free or paid training?
If your company has offered to sponsor you to upskill, then this is a no-brainer. Choose a training program or mentorship opportunity that falls within their budget, and take advantage of the offer from your manager.
If you’re not being sponsored, then you’ll need to decide if you have any budget to invest in a paid option. If not, there are likely free or low-cost online courses that could help.
Another option is to seek out a mentor or coach rather than go through a formal training option. This would allow you to learn from someone who has already mastered the skill you’re trying to learn.
If you can find someone within your own company who has time to mentor you, this could be a free option. Otherwise, you can invest your savings into a mentor you trust, who is experienced in what you want to study.
These resources can help you find training programs, or make the most out of your mentorship:
Putting your skills to good use
Once you’ve finished the course or training program you’re going through, your job isn’t done. Learning a new skill is one thing, but actually getting your hands dirty and trying it out is something completely different.
If you aren’t planning on changing jobs, getting hands-on experience won’t be hard. Let your boss and colleagues know you’ve learned new skills and are eager to try them out. Ideally, they’ll help you put your skills to the test when the opportunity becomes available.
If you’ve learned a new skill to apply for a new job, it may be a bit harder to get the experience you need to fully understand your new skills.
One option is to try your hand at freelancing. You can offer to perform tasks relevant to your new skills at low-cost (or even free) to businesses that need help, in exchange for testimonials and experience. Then you can either keep freelancing if it feels right, or use your experience and examples to land your next in-house job.
Here are more resources for whatever method you choose:
Don’t stop now—keep upskilling
Upskilling might seem like a one-off practice: You learn the skills, you put them into play, and you move on with your career.
But the truth is, the most valuable employees are always looking for ways to upskill.
Think of it like playing a video game: Learning a new skill is like moving on to the next level—not ending the game altogether.
If you worked with a mentor, stay in touch with them—you may want to use their services again once you find another new skill to develop.
And be sure to have regular conversations with your employer about what new tasks you can pick up in the future to go even further with your career.