Many people have had to rethink their career options this year or force themselves to develop new skills to survive. Businesses have gone solely online, restaurants have reopened as takeaways and other companies have had to revamp their services to weather the crisis.
And with huge numbers of people stuck at home with little to do, many furloughed or redundant workers have made use of their spare time to develop new skills. People have learned how to craft, code and bake, while the demand for online courses has soared with people wanting to gain qualifications while under lockdown.
Gaining skills you can apply to your career is hugely beneficial, but the problem is that qualifications - even when they can be done remotely - are usually hugely expensive. Moreover, disposable income isn’t in abundance for many people this year. So how can you skill-up when you’re struggling financially?
“The benefit of taking your own skills development seriously is that you are thinking about how you want to grow and develop,” says Rosemary McLean is an occupational psychologist and career coach at the The Career Innovation Company.
“It’s important to be curious about how your own organisation or professional field is shifting, how new technologies might impact new business models, so do your research and talk to people across your organisation,” she adds. “The pandemic has shown just how quickly people can adapt and gain new skills such as adopting new ways of working - sometimes it’s about getting out of your comfort zone.”
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Gaining new skills is also about future-proofing your career, or widening your skillset so you can build a different career path too. And the good news is, you don’t necessarily need a university degree.
“Over recent years we have seen a huge increase in open source learning opportunities that are free such as MOOCs (Massive Open On-Line Courses),” McLean says.
“These are often offered by universities, or learning providers. They provide super flexible access to learning that you can fit in around other commitments,” she adds. “If you did a quick search on a topic and MOOC you’d be sure to find something. You have to be self-directed to do on-line learning but most of these courses try to encourage participant interaction to help you keep motivated.”
FutureLearn is the UK’s first MOOCs provider established by The Open University and it offers various courses in conjunction with other institutions, such as the University of Birmingham. The courses are online, which gives you the flexibility to learn alongside work or other commitments too.
“The pandemic has also accelerated a rise in people offering free webinars, so try using LinkedIn to follow organisations or people that are relevant to the work you do,” McLean.
“That could be business schools, consultancies, professional bodies.It’s a good idea to join relevant groups on LinkedIn too. Searching on Eventbrite or on Facebook can also highlight free events that might be useful.”
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Another idea would be to seek out volunteering opportunities in your professional body or local community.
“Skills development isn’t all about going on a course either,” McLean adds. “They are developed through gaining experiences. For example, new projects, standing in for your boss, leading a meeting, working in another team, and volunteering to name a few.”
Self-help books can be helpful for some people, depending on what you are trying to achieve and how you like to learn. Some will be much more factual and these are great when you are trying to acquire new knowledge or techniques.
“When you are trying to boost your interpersonal skills you can gain the theory, but you still need to put it into practice, and that usually involves other people so it can help to have a peer to talk with who could give you feedback,” McLean explains.
“For example, making a presentation. Self-help books can be a great source of inspiration and motivation, particularly when it comes to careers and positive psychology,” she adds. “Another channel to look at is YouTube. There is so much out there if you search on what you are hoping to learn about. TED talks can be particularly inspiring.”