Don’t let your skill set go stale

Keeping your skills fresh may help extend your career’s expiration date

older-adults-learning

If you’re in a career like mine (in my case, information technology), it feels that youth can carry a higher premium than experience.  One assumption is that younger people bring with them the latest skills or at least have the willingness to learn them.  Anecdotally, I can cite numerous examples where this is unfortunately true.  However, being “of a certain age” doesn’t have to mean that we can’t broaden our skills.

Why should I learn something new?

If you’re retiring in the next year or so, you might be able to ease your way out the door without having the latest skills.  However, let’s say you’re in your fifties.  You now have to be concerned with your company shifting its priorities.  Maybe they are looking to implement new approaches, systems or paradigms.  If you’ve been keeping up with changes, you might not be caught off-guard when the shift comes and you may survive a round of layoffs because you possess the relevant skills.  But, let’s say the worst does happen and you lose your job.  Searching for new employment after a certain age can already prove to be a daunting task.  However, if you can show that you’ve been staying current with your skill set, you might be able to provide that company with enough incentive to bring you aboard.  Combine that with the experience and you can become a clear asset to a potential employer.

What do I do if my current company doesn’t offer training?

One common refrain I’ve heard throughout my career is that people don’t like learning skills if the company they work for is not willing to provide training for them.  My question to them is, “are you willing to invest your own time and/or money into yourself?” A company will offer training in line with its priorities and budget.  For example, if you’re interested in learning to develop mobile applications or want to get into business intelligence, if that’s not your employer’s core business, your chances of their investing thousands of dollars in your education are slim.  Fret not, there are other options.  Perhaps you can pursue a college degree or certification in your area of interest.  Many colleges are making their learning more accessible by offering their courses on-line, which matches up better with the schedules of working adults.  Additionally, many employers offer tuition reimbursement, which may end up making the overall cost of you education much more affordable.

If you are looking to get up and running with a new skill quickly, there are a number of e-learning companies that offer you the ability to access their courses either through subscription-based or a la carte offerings.  For example, Lynda.com offers courses on everything from technology to business/marketing to video production. The subscription cost is normally $25/month but, you might want to find out if your library has a relationship with Lynda.com.  My local library does and, therefore, I am able to access the full catalog of their course offerings for free.  All it cost me was the time to go get a library card. I would encourage you to find out if your local library offers the same. Treehouse also offers a similar subscription-based model, however it seems to be technology-focused.  Another option that I personally use is Udemy.  Udemy allows you to purchase access to individual courses which cost, on average, $20/each, though you can often find discounts of 25-50% on courses.  So, paying $10-15 for a complete course is quite a bargain.

The point in all this is that, even if your company doesn’t pony up the money for you to attend training, you do have some rather affordable alternatives to keep your skills up-to-date.

So, what are you waiting for?

There’s a saying that my mentor had in regards putting things off because of the time it would take to complete the task.  For example, if I would say it would take two years to get that degree, his question would be “how old will you be in two years if you don’t get that degree?”  In other words, time is going to pass, even if I don’t do a thing.  Knowing this, we might as well have something to show for our time.  Along with that, however, is that as time passes, windows of opportunity may close to us because we weren’t prepared for a change.  Don’t be the one this happens to — get out there and do it now.

Written by JP Smith

A self-proclaimed "technologist...with attitude", I'm a forty-something husband, father and IT professional/enthusiast. I believe that learning and growth are lifelong endeavors.