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  1. Blog
  2. Career Development
  3. August 15, 2023

Want to Be Irreplaceable at Work? Become a Continuous Learner

Seven steps to take right now

woman learning new skills at work
Photo courtesy of Umar ben

The skill set you had when you first joined your job has probably changed and expanded over time to keep up with your own curiosity and revolutionary changes in our workplaces. As industries and technologies continue to evolve and job hopping remains common practice, ongoing education has become one of the most integral, evergreen tools for creating a fulfilling career. Whether your goal is to secure a promotion, change industries, or rejoin the workforce after an employment gap, upskilling and reskilling are musts. 

Learning new skills while working full-time requires discipline, strategic planning, time management, and perseverance. By setting clear goals, utilizing available resources, and maintaining a growth mindset in which you thrive on challenges, you’ll be able to confidently take on more demanding projects and responsibilities. Learning new skills not only enhances your marketability as an employee or job candidate, but also empowers you to take control over the future of your career. 

Learn more about why continuous learning is paramount for career development, and explore various methods and tips for learning new skills while working full-time.

Read more: The Glow and Grow Technique: 16 Illuminating Self-Reflection Questions for the Workplace

Why should you learn new skills in the workplace?

Continuous learning is a cornerstone of career development and advancement. It’s an investment into your future employability. The workplace is in a constant state of flux, driven by technological advancements, changing market dynamics, and evolving customer demands. To thrive and remain competitive in such an environment—while also feeding your own curiosities and interests—it’s imperative to adopt a growth mindset that embraces ongoing skill acquisition.

Learning new skills not only keeps you on top of the latest industry trends and practices, but also increases your ability to adapt and problem-solve in the workplace. It can boost your self-confidence and increase your comfortability with taking on new challenges. And if you’re pivoting industries or making a career change, it’s a fundamental move. 

Some examples of hard skills you can learn on the job might include:

  • Industry or product knowledge

  • Project management

  • Using a programming language

  • Graphic design

  • Technical writing

  • Data analytics

  • Budget planning

Some examples of soft skills you can learn on the job might include:

  • Communication

  • Empathy

  • Leadership and management

  • Customer service

  • Time management

Read more: Required Skills Aren’t Necessarily Required. Here’s What It Means to Be ‘Qualified’ for a Job

10 tips for learning new skills in the workplace

Balancing the demands of a full-time job while learning new skills requires careful planning and a proactive approach. Here are some tips to help you navigate the process.

1. Set clear goals

Define the skills you want to acquire and set clear, achievable goals. Having a roadmap will keep you focused and motivated throughout your learning journey. For example, you could define your goal as wanting to develop your data analysis skills in order to contribute more effectively to your team's decision-making processes.

2. Prioritize and manage your time

Time management is key when learning while working full-time. Try to allocate specific time slots for learning, and stick to your schedule. Small, consistent efforts yield better results than sporadic, intensive study sessions. For example, you could allocate an hour every Monday and Wednesday evening for two months to complete course content and exercises.

3. Leverage your workplace

Many employers recognize the value of continuous learning and offer resources to support their employees. Check if your company provides access to learning opportunities like online courses, workshops, stipends, reimbursements, or mentorship programs and take advantage of the offerings.

Read more: 25 Companies That Offer Learning Opportunities to Help You Grow

4. Create a learning-friendly environment

Learning new skills can feel overwhelming, especially if you’re still juggling work responsibilities. Break down the learning process into smaller manageable steps and designate a distraction-free space for learning. 

6. Embrace both patience and failure

Learning new skills is a journey that involves setbacks and challenges. Embrace failure as a stepping stone to success and practice patience with yourself.

7. Reflect and apply your skills

Regularly assess your progress and reflect on how the new skills can be applied in your current role. Then put your skills to work! Practical application can solidify your learning and demonstrates the value of your efforts to both yourself and your employer. 

8. Network and collaborate

Get to know people in other departments and teams. Be curious—engage with colleagues who share similar interests or are also learning new skills. Collaborative learning can provide support, motivation, and a platform for sharing insights. For example, if you’re deepening your data analysis skills, you could share your progress with a colleague who is proficient in data analysis and discuss any challenges you’re facing or ask for tips on how to improve. 

Read more: 40 Foolproof ‘Fun Facts About Me’ for Networking & New Jobs

9. Stay curious

Cultivate your curiosity by remaining open to exploring new areas. The desire to learn should be driven by genuine interest and a thirst for knowledge.

10. Balance learning with self-care

Learning while working can be demanding, so it's crucial to strike a balance between your personal and professional life. To avoid burnout, prioritize your self-care. Take a break from technology, go outside, and engage in positive self-talk.

Read more: How to Create a Self-Care Checklist (with Examples)

8 actionable steps to learn new skills

Even if your employer offers learning opportunities, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed when thinking about where and how to begin your journey. Once you’re ready to take the dive, start by tackling these initial actionable steps. 

1. Assess your current skills

In order to know where to begin, you first need to know what skill set level you have. Take time to reflect on your current role, responsibilities, and the tasks you perform regularly. Then, create a list of your current skills. Categorize them into technical skills, soft skills, and transferable skills and rate your proficiency in each skill (beginner, intermediate, advanced). Refer to past performance reviews or feedback sessions and identify any skills that were highlighted as areas needing improvement. From here, you can identify the gaps between your current skills and the skills needed to excel, and you can even take a skill-based test like LinkedIn’s Skill Assessments

2. Take an online class or course

E-learning has made education accessible to learners of all backgrounds. Platforms like Coursera, Udemy, and LinkedIn Learning offer a plethora of courses spanning a wide range of subjects. These courses are often self-paced, allowing you to balance learning with your existing commitments. Try to think outside of the box when it comes to online learning. For example, downloading a language app like Duolingo could be beneficial for helping you better travel to other offices or communicate with international clients. 

3. Read a book or a blog

Don’t knock traditional methods like reading books, blogs, research papers, and industry publications. Books authored by experts in a particular field can provide in-depth knowledge and insights that online resources might lack.

4. Attend a webinar or virtual workshop

Interactive learning experiences allow you to engage with experts, ask questions, and discuss real-world applications of the skills being taught. Take detailed notes during the event and highlight any key concepts or techniques. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there—if you have a question, ask the host or drop it in the chat box. 

5. Network and learn from your peers

Group discussions, brainstorming sessions, and collaborative projects provide opportunities to share knowledge and learn from your colleagues’ experiences. Taking on new challenges and applying theoretical knowledge to real-world situations can accelerate skill acquisition. If you have coworkers with particularly appealing skill sets, ask them how they acquired those skills and use their tips as a springboard for your own learning.

6. Take advantage of on-the-job training

Taking advantage of on-the-job training opportunities is a practical and effective way to learn new skills in the workplace. Here's how you can make the most of these opportunities:

  • Shadowing: Get first-hand exposure to real-life scenarios and practical applications of the skill you want to learn by shadowing a colleague. Ask questions, take notes, and actively engage in discussions to maximize your learning.

  • Mentorship opportunities: Mentorships can pair you with an experienced colleague who guides and supports your skill development. Regularly communicate with your mentor, discuss your progress, and seek their feedback and insights.

  • Cross-functional training: If your organization has multiple departments, consider temporarily working in another department to gain exposure to different skills and perspectives.

  • Job rotations: You can temporarily take on a different role within the company. This exposes you to various skills and responsibilities and broadens your understanding of the organization as a whole.

  • Lunch and learns: Participate in lunchtime sessions or workshops where colleagues share their expertise. These informal sessions provide quick insights into specific skills or topics.

Read more: 80 Questions to Ask a Mentor to Grow Your Career & Confidence

7. Watch a YouTube video 

YouTube is such a great (free!) resource to utilize when learning a new skill. Search for YouTube channels that are specifically focused on the skill you want to learn and pinpoint content created by experts in the field or organizations known for their educational material. As you watch the videos or docuseries, take detailed notes on key concepts and pause the videos at certain points to practice what you've learned.

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