Careers advice

How to upskill yourself

A guide to professional leveling up

What you’ll learn:

  • What does upskilling mean, and why do employers value it? 
  • The difference between upskilling and reskilling 
  • Where to look for upskilling opportunities 
  • How to develop your career plan

Upskilling is more than just a buzzword, and today there are more options than ever for growing your skillset and branching out into new areas. 

But what are your options, and how do you do it successfully? Here are some tips.

What does upskilling mean, and why do employers value it?

As the name suggests, upskilling is all about developing your capabilities in order to reach higher levels of competence. This can refer both to building on skill areas where you already have a degree of proficiency, and also learning something entirely new from scratch. The ultimate idea is that you come out of the process more highly skilled than when you started. 

From this description, it should be pretty obvious why employees who are keen on upskilling are an attractive proposition to employers looking to fill vacant roles within their teams. Firstly, such employees typically have more skills under their belts, likely making them more capable members of the team, who can help to move the business forward. Secondly, if you’ve upskilled in the past, chances are that you’ll want to keep doing so in the future. This means employers know they’re be hiring someone who’s likely to become even more of an asset over time, rather than someone who’s looking to settle into a comfortable job where they don’t need to challenge themselves.

The difference between upskilling and reskilling

In your searches around upskilling, you may have come across a related term, reskilling. There are definitely areas of overlap between these two as, ultimately, they’re both about expanding your skill set. However, there’s one key difference. 

Reskilling typically refers to someone learning an entirely new set of skills, specifically to perform a different job. Doing this is common for people who are looking to change careers, and need to learn a whole suite of different skills to do this. Upskilling, by contrast, is more associated with learning or building skills that will help you develop within your current role.

How to upskill: where should you look?

Given that upskilling simply means learning new skills and capabilities, there are several ways you can go about it:

1. Online courses

Starting a course from the comfort of your home is an easy and convenient way to upskill. 

There are endless numbers of providers here, including free options. A couple of good examples include Open Poly and General Assembly, but if you Google “learn INSERT DESIRED SKILL online”, you’ll find heaps of options to choose from.

You can find online courses to teach you just about anything.

2. Evening classes

Across New Zealand, universities, colleges and other organisations offer onsite evening classes on everything from Te Reo Māori to computer courses. If in-person learning works best for you, this might be a better option than online courses.

3. Volunteering

If you’re not working right now, or have spare evenings or weekends, volunteering with charity groups is a fantastic way to learn new skills and put them into practice in a real life organisation. Not only will this look great on your CV, you’ll be doing good at the same time. 

Bonus tip: upskilling doesn’t just refer to ‘hard skills’ – for example, learning a specific software tool or getting a new trade qualification. Improving your soft, transferable skills is vitally important, and working with charities is a good way to do this.

In particular, you’re likely to get better at:

  • Written and oral communication.
  • Teamwork.
  • Administration and organisation.
  • Promotion and marketing.
  • Empathy and cultural awareness.

It’s important to remember that upskilling through charities can both be on the ground, or online. Many charity groups are crying out for people to help them with digital tasks like website building, database management or online fundraising.

4. At work

It’s in your employer’s interests that you continue to learn and grow professionally, so most companies are happy to help their staff upskill. We recommend talking to your manager about what possibilities exist. Common approaches to upskilling at work include:

  • Access to courses: some businesses might have access to paid online courses they can pass onto you for free.
  • Professional development plans: your manager can help you work out what you want to achieve, and how you will do it. For example, if you want to improve your communication and public speaking skills, they can let you take the lead in meetings to grow your confidence.
  • New projects: when possible, your manager might give you the opportunity to explore new projects or responsibilities that align with your upskilling goals.

Talk to your manager about upskilling opportunities that might exist at work.

Creating an upskilling plan

The capabilities you choose to work on will depend on jobs you’re looking at, your interests and areas where you want to improve.

Whatever you choose to learn, it’s important you have a strategy that establishes your objective, and how you intend to reach it – this is your upskilling plan.

For this, we recommend SMART goals. SMART stands for: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely.

  • Specific: what do you want to accomplish? Think who, what, why and where.
  • Measurable: are you succeeding?. For example, if you were taking a course, you could aim to complete one module per week.
  • Achievable: are you being realistic? If not, try lowering expectations for this goal, and make it a step on the way to your overall target.
  • Relevant: is what you’re doing actually leading somewhere?
  • Timely: how long are you giving yourself to reach your goal?

Let’s say you gave yourself the objective of learning how to use Adobe Photoshop, an example of a SMART goal here might look like:

  • Specific: I’m going to get to grips with the basics of creating and editing images in Photoshop using ABC online course. This will help me when applying for marketing jobs, as this is often listed as a desirable skill.
  • Measurable: the course consists of 24 lessons,each lasting roughly one hour, I aim to complete one lesson per day during the week.
  • Achievable: I have the time to commit to this course, and have the software and course downloaded on my computer.
  • Relevant: This is relevant to my long-term career goals in the marketing space.
  • Timely: doing one hour per night, five times a week means I will complete the course in just over one month. This is achievable, and allows me to dedicate proper time to absorbing what I learn.

Whatever you choose to learn, remember to add it to your CV and Trade Me Jobs Profile so employers can see your full range of skills.