Why Learning New Skills Will Boost Career Prospects

It can be easy for some to reach a point where they feel they have learnt the necessary skills they need for the industry or job role they currently hold or want. However, when the unexpected happens and the job role they have experienced in isn’t available, or they want to have a career change, many may find they don’t have all the transferable skills needed, meaning a gap in their skillset. Job roles are evolving all the time and some roles require new skills they may not have needed a few years ago. For those that have found themselves out of work for the first time in a while, they may find that the job market has changed and has become competitive in their field of expertise, or worse, doesn’t have any current openings. Having the necessary skills to stand out amongst a competitive job market can mean the difference between being hired or not. With UK unemployment claims reaching 2.1 million in April, a rise of 856,000 that is the biggest increase since records began in 1971, the job market has become crowded very quickly. With the unemployment rate expected to further rise, never has there been a better time for people to review their skillset.

Assessing the Skill Gap

Being able to find the time to fully assess a current skillset can be difficult for many, whilst knowing where to start isn’t always obvious. With almost 62% of the UK workforce aspiring to change their career path and 52% advising they would embark on an apprenticeship if it supports this, knowing the skills they currently have and lack will greatly improve their chances of successfully changing career. Back in 2014, the UK government provided an analysis of the future of work and skills in 2030, setting out different future scenarios and the implications they would have on different sectors. One of the predictions was that with greater business flexibility and incremental innovation it would result in fewer opportunities and weakened job security for the low-skilled. Highly skilled individuals would welcome a progressive work environment allowing for greater autonomy and a better work-life balance, whilst low-skilled workers would compete for positions across all sectors with many jobs disappearing. This scenario would also see education and training providers become more commercially focused and responsive to employer needs, with advancements in technology improving online learning of work-based skills.With the future focusing on highly skilled employees that are much in demand, the next decade could see these predictions come true meaning those with a diverse skill set could benefit from many more opportunities and even be needed to cover more than one role owing to a smaller workforce.

Many of the most wanted skills employers want from candidates involve problem-solving, resilience, flexibility, and critical thinking. However, having employer-specific skills are vital,with 92% of employers saying that so-called ‘soft skills’ are equally or more important than hard skills. This comes as the Open University last year found 68% of employers struggled to find workers with the skills they needed. A good job description will showcase the exact skills they are looking for and what the minimum skills they expect from a new employee. This forms the basis of what someone looking to apply will need to show on their CV and explain during an interview if they are shortlisted. According to the LinkedIn community, being able to interpret a job description fully and comparing with two or three other recent job postings provides a full understanding of what an industry is looking for. Assessing the profiles of individuals already working in a particular sector or role also helps to highlight what skills are being emphasized.

Levelling Up Your Skill Set

Identifying the skills employees are looking for is one part, but there are some general areas that do help candidates stand out. Being innovative is one of these skills and according to research by Price Waterhouse Coopers. They found that 43% of executives believe that the ability to innovate is a competitive skill required for the success of their company. Negotiation skills are another core skill that many candidates may wish to improve upon and sharpen. Just 39% of workers tried to negotiate their pay on their last job offer, meaning 61% didn’t at all.According to job site Indeed, not all forms of negotiation are effective but knowing what you want to gain, where you are willing to compromise and the terms you will refuse to accept will help candidates develop their career, secure a higher salary and meet critical business needs, with continuous practice key.

So where can people look to start developing and improving their skillset? Fortunately, there are plenty of affordable online resources to help do this, especially in the current climate of remote working where access to distance learning has become essential. Sites such as Udemy, Coursera and Skillshare all have thousands of online courses that cover a diverse range of areas including business, finance, design and more that all include expert instruction at affordable prices, as well as Lynda and EdX. For creative minds, Domestika have a large online community to learn and interact with creative professionals, and Codeacademy is ideal for those wanting to learn to code and master web development.

For those that are currently in employment and wanting to improve their skill set, a lot of the time this will be something they will have to develop in their own time, with a reported two in three businesses having no clear employee training plans. According to a new report of 1,200 employers from The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and Accenture, 41% cite a lack of learning time, 40% say they have limited budgets and 29% say lack of management time or support is a barrier to delivering employee learning. According to Peter Cheese, Chief Executive of the CIPD, “learning has never been more important for business, the UK and working lives – we needed it before COVID-19 and we need to even more now.”

Whether an employer can help develop their employees’ skills or it comes down to the individual, the future workforce will need to become more diverse and highly skilled than ever before. The ongoing challenges of the current pandemic seeing unemployment rise adds to this pressure for those looking for work or wanting to change careers. According to Heather Rolfe, Director of Research at Demos, “COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of skills. Technology must, of course, be part of recovery but it isn’t the solution. It is people, their skills and abilities who will rebuild our damaged economy.”

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