“A rolling stone gathers no moss.” That adage describes a free spirit who avoids the “moss” of stagnation (i.e., the boredom of staying with the same company for thirty years) but who also misses out on the benefits—especially pay raises and status—that might have accumulated if they had stuck with the same company or profession over the years. When it comes to personal branding, “moss” is a good thing; whether you switch companies often or not, your brand traits need to be communicated with consistency, accumulating followers who know they can count on your unique approach to delivering value.
As employees the world over continue reevaluating their working lives, many find themselves yearning for more professional challenges and opportunities. For some, that means a whole new career path entirely. For others, it’s a desire to get better at the jobs they have now and make long-ignored investments in their professional development. If you’re yearning to start rolling, one way to keep your personal brand stable is to be consistent about the skills you’re known for. But to be competitive, you need to keep adapting and updating those same skills. Society has even coined a term for the phenomenon of workers learning additional skills to expand their current capabilities without reinventing their brand: it’s called “upskilling,” and even Merriam-Webster is on board with this helpful word.
In a world of constant change and disruption, companies need to be nimble and aggressive when it comes to keeping their workforces on top of industry trends and market shifts. Hiring new talent is part of the equation, but only a small part. The bigger challenge—and opportunity—lies in training existing employees to adapt and improve in tandem with the organization.
Everybody Benefits From Upskilling
Savvy leaders know that upskilling brings significant benefits to both the employer and the employee. While workers achieve new skill levels (and potentially gain new roles within their companies and earn more money), the company stays relevant amid increased competition (and potentially earns more revenue).
When done correctly, the results can be transformational. It’s no secret that a wide skills gap persists in most industries. A survey by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation determined that 74% of hiring managers acknowledge (and certainly lament) a skills gap in the job candidate pool. The same survey found that more than half of U.S. states (28) have more open jobs than available workers to fill them. Finding qualified candidates to inhabit positions has become a significant challenge.
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One of the main culprits for this reality is technology and the rate at which it advances. Because tech evolves at warp speed, keeping employees trained on the newest developments is paramount. For some companies, that means sending employees to conferences or seminars to learn new solutions. For others, it’s providing classes or online training sessions on important industry changes. While some companies are investing millions into reskilling and upskilling workers, many companies don’t invest the time or resources to effectively upskill their workers. If that’s your situation, here are four ways to take charge of your own upskilling transformation.
1. Design your career path plan
Workers who wing it rarely fly high, professionally speaking, so you need to create some sort of plan and align your career path with your personal brand. Ask yourself: What makes you feel most fulfilled at work and at home? What do you want to accomplish in your career? What values are most important to you? Questions such as those will help outline the career path plan you create for yourself and determine which skills to focus on in your plan for continual education. Once it’s established, consult the predetermined path at regular intervals so you know whether you remain on course, and to monitor whether you’re investing time in honing the right skills.
“If you and I want to bake a cake, we wouldn’t just haphazardly throw ingredients into a pan and put it all in the oven,” says career coach Tracy Timm in a recent Wall Street Journal article. “We would look up a recipe and then we would follow the recipe to a tee to get to the outcome that we want.” Skills are the key ingredients for your career.
2. Ask for cross-department training
If you’ve been waiting eons for management to mandate upskilling, it’s time to take action. Ask for it. Taking that initiative proves you are willing to tackle your own professional development head-on, and chances are the C-suite will notice (and appreciate) your willingness to proactively improve your value—even as a trainer. Pairing employees who have completed specialized training with those who haven’t can be a great solution that boosts engagement as well.
“My company practices a form of the hybrid training model that rotates employees through different roles so they encounter a wide range of problems and solutions,” says Nagendra Bandaru, president of Wipro’s iCORE global business line and an expert in helping enterprise C-suite members sustainably upskill for AI as it becomes a cornerstone of operations for every business. “Employees also bring their own expertise and perspective to whatever team or department they rotate into. I’ve seen this approach to enterprise training elevate the skill level across our organization.”
3. Take online courses
Life’s responsibilities may make returning to a physical classroom an impossibility, but there’s no reason that you can’t carve out a little time for online learning. Does your employer have a resource library that you can access? Or does it offer reimbursements or stipends for professional development? Even if you have to shoulder the financial burden upfront, chances are you’ll be rewarded later with advancement opportunities—at your current company or another one in the future. Strong personal brands can be amplified through professional development.
And, of course, you could use that self-propelled training to jump ship and make your way to a more supportive work environment. Many companies don’t realize, but cutting employee training costs can be financially detrimental and yield much higher costs in the long run,” says Epignosis co-founder Thanos Papangelis. “Employees value learning opportunities, but when they are not provided as an opportunity to optimize their skills and abilities, they’re more likely to leave.”
4. Join your company’s mentorship program
One of the easiest, most effective ways to accomplish some self-guided upskilling is through mentorship. The knowledge and expertise that older, more seasoned colleagues possess is invaluable, and most are more than eager to share what they know with interested co-workers. Buddy up with a respected team member and ask if they’ll serve as a mentor to you. Most will be flattered by the request and will be happy to oblige. Along the way, your mentor might be in the process of upskilling too, by tapping your perspective as a junior-level colleague.
According to a recent Harvard Business Review article about mentorships, infusing a clear sense of purpose creates excitement and momentum to solidify the relationship. Without it, mentorships can become nice friendships but will not help employees reach their goals. So just make sure the relationship remains professional and purposeful. Friendships blossom, sure, but keep the career progression path top of mind in those mentor-mentee interactions so you can reap maximum rewards.
If your career has started to feel monotonous, you may be tempted to steer it in a completely new direction. But you can’t steer away from your innate strengths. Those will follow you no matter how many times you try to reinvent yourself. Instead, keep your career fresh by building on those existing strengths and skills—and watch your personal brand build on itself, higher and higher, every step of the way.