Feeling stuck at work, forced to change careers due to the pandemic or worried that the robots are coming after your job? Professional growth can be hard, especially when the nature of work is constantly changing.
But on the upside, it’s never been easier to access resources that can help you level up at work. Here’s where upskilling and reskilling comes in.
Why should you upskill or reskill?
Upskilling refers to improving or expanding your skillset so that you can grow in your current role, while reskilling refers to learning a new set of skills so you can take on a different role. Here’s why they matter:
- Stay relevant. According to the World Economic Forum, automation might affect one-third of all jobs by mid-2030, although it’s expected to create more jobs than it displaces. The role that you have right now may be obsolete in the future, but learning new skills can help you stay relevant in the workforce.
- Get ahead in your career. When you learn new skills that make you more valuable to your company, it’s easier to negotiate a raise or a promotion.
- More job opportunities. This applies if you’re looking for a role similar to one you already have – for example, a journalist with data visualisation skills has higher chances of standing out from a pool of journalist applicants. It also applies if you’re looking for a slightly different role – for example, if you’re a content marketer with excellent SEO skills, you could also apply for SEO specialist roles.
- To switch career paths. Reskilling can help if you want to move to a different career path that is more rewarding (whether that be financially, intellectually or emotionally).
How to identify areas to upskill or reskill
Want to start levelling up, but not sure what skills to work on? Here are a few questions you could ask yourself to identify areas for upskilling or reskilling.
What are you interested in?
It’s easier to learn something when you’re personally invested in it. It doesn’t have to be directly related to your job, either – exploring areas outside your role can open up more opportunities in the future.
What skills can help you get ahead at work?
Think about what skills can help you be more productive at work, contribute to your performance indicators or even make work more interesting. Focusing on these skills can be rewarding in the short term, as you’ll see an immediate pay-off.
What skills can help you improve your career in the long run?
Think about how your role might change in the future, or how its demand will be impacted, and what skills you’ll need to stay relevant. You could also consider how you’ll want your career to look in the next few years, and what skills you’ll need to get there.
What skills are in demand?
Some companies publish salary guides or reports on workforce trends. You can use them to find out what sort of roles and skills employers are looking for. For example, Linkedin’s Job on the Rise in 2021 report lists out roles that are in demand this year, as well as the top skills they require.
What skills do you need to switch careers?
If you’re thinking about making a career switch, consider what skills someone in that role needs. You could look at the requirements listed in job descriptions, or read through university or online course syllabi to find out what someone training for this role would learn. If you want to move to a slightly different role in the same industry, use the Linkedin career explorer to find similar roles and their required skills.
How do you upskill or reskill?
a) Upskill/reskill the expensive way
Many skills can be learned outside formal education. However, for roles that need professional qualifications, there’s no avoiding it – you can’t, say, brush up on your neurosurgical technique by watching YouTube videos.
But postgraduate study can be pricey. A Master’s degree in economics can cost between RM10,000 to RM28,000 in a local university like University Malaysia, and up to RM60,000 per year in private universities like the University of Nottingham Malaysia.
Besides forking out of your own pocket or drawing from your EPF savings, here’s what you can do to afford further study:
- Postgraduate scholarships. Scholarships aren’t just for undergraduates. There are many university-funded scholarships or international programmes, such as the Chevening Scholarship, that offer funding specifically for adults with working experience.
- PTPTN. This government education loan can be used to finance your postgraduate study too. But PTPTN loans come with limitations – depending on your income and the cost of the course, you may not be able to get full financing. They are also limited to courses in local public institutions.
- Bank loans. Some banks may offer education loans that cover local and overseas institutions. These can be more flexible than PTPTN loans, but they might incur slightly higher interest charges.
Formal education can also be time-intensive. Depending on your course, you may need at least a year to complete your studies if you’re studying full-time – longer if you are planning on studying part-time.
b) Upskill/reskill the free or affordable way
There are many ways to gain new skills without shelling out for university fees. Here are a few ideas:
1. Seek opportunities at work
If there’s an exciting new project coming up at work, you could volunteer to contribute. This can help you practice skills that you don’t normally use in your day-to-day tasks, as well as collaborate with different teams. You don’t have to go all out, either – you could contribute in small ways and still build useful skills. For example, you could offer to put together a PowerPoint slide or onboard the new intern.
Alternatively, if there aren’t any new projects at work, you could try to identify any inefficiencies at work, think of a solution, and talk to your manager about how you might solve them.
And the best part? You get to improve your skills while being paid. Just make sure that you’ll be able to handle your current workload in addition to these added responsibilities!
2. Work on side projects
A side project – that is, a project you take on during your free time outside of work – can be a good way to practise your skills, develop creatively and give you something to put on your resume. And they can be fun, too!
When choosing a side project, you could consider what topics you’re interested in (especially if you don’t have a chance to explore it in your day job), how this project can contribute to your learning, financial or professional goals, or how it could help solve a problem you or someone else is facing…or even if you just think it’d be fun to work on. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Volunteer for a cause you believe in
- Start a blog, newsletter or podcast on a topic you’re passionate about
- Work on a web or mobile app idea
- Open a hobby-related online shop
3. Online learning
You can learn almost anything online – and often for free, too. Here are a few popular ways you can upskill online:
Online bootcamps. An online bootcamp is a short-term, intense study programme that helps you transition into a new career – typically for those looking for a role in tech, design and digital marketing.
They tend to be popular because they offer a structured programme that’s delivered through interactive classes, taught by industry professionals. Some bootcamps also help you secure a job after you graduate. But they can be pricey – General Assembly Malaysia offers 10-week, 40-hour bootcamps that cost RM7,000 each.
Free university courses. Platforms like Coursera and edX (also known as Massive Open Online Classrooms, or MOOCs) allow you to access university courses for free. But you’d need to pay a fee to unlock a certification of completion. The same goes for getting access to graded assignments, which could cost US$30 or more per course.
Free or affordable online courses. Popular learning platform Udemy has tons of learning courses for around US$100 (RM420) each, but it’s almost always running an 80% to 90% discount, which means that a course usually costs around RM60. Besides that, Google offers free high-quality online courses on digital marketing and technology, varying from under two hours to over 20 hours in length.
Alternatively, you can also check out e-LATIH, an online learning platform launched by the Human Resources Development Fund (HRDF). Currently, it has over 200 online courses (with certifications for completion) that you can access for free if you happen to be a Malaysian citizen.
Putting it into practice
For example, if you’re a photographer whose goal is to learn how to use Adobe Photoshop to edit images by the end of the month. Need more specific goals? You could commit to a daily goal of following one Photoshop tutorial for ten minutes every day.
Ten minutes a day doesn’t sound like much, but it’s easier to stick to compared to committing to a goal of say, two hours a day, right from the start. Besides that, small sessions of practice or learning can add up over time.
|Total over one year
|What can you achieve with this time?
|Read about eight 250-page books (based on 300 words per minute and 500 words per page)
|Complete this web development bootcamp on Udemy (which has 55 hours of video content, but assuming you will take longer to understand and apply the lessons)
|Complete around six university courses on Coursera or edX (based on five hours of learning per week for six weeks per course)