5 Ways You Can Improve Your Job Skills, Beyond Courses

Furthering your formal education or attending a course aren’t the only ways to grow and develop your skill set, say our career experts

By Sasha Gonzales        25 April 2023

Whether you have just started a job or are in the middle of your career, it doesn’t hurt to pick up new work skills or develop your existing skills and knowledge. 

When we think about upskilling or learning something new, furthering our studies (that is, getting a certificate, diploma or degree) or attending a short course may be the first things that come to mind. But there are many other ways to expand your skill set that are less time-consuming and don’t require a huge financial outlay on your (or your company’s) part. 

“People decide to further their studies in order to advance their careers. This thought often emerges when they believe there are gaps in their abilities that are impeding their career growth,” says Yeo Chuen Chuen, Managing Director of ACESENCE Agile Leadership and author of 8 Paradoxes of Leadership Agility.

“But furthering your formal education is a big decision, especially if you’re a mid-career professional, given both the financial and time commitments. 

“While many people would consider filling the gaps with traditional courses or formal education like doing an MBA, there are other avenues of learning that are worth exploring.” 

To help them decide the best route to take, Chuen Chuen usually gets her clients to define the real gap and then look at ways to close each of them. 

The most common gaps relate to cross-functional knowledge, their network outside the industry or country, and a lack of soft skills to work with diverse teams, she adds.

Once you have identified where your own gaps are, you can decide how best to address and close them. 

According to Paul Heng, Founder of NeXT Career Consulting Group, Asia, one of the best ways to develop new job skills is simply by performing those skills on-the-job and asking questions along the way. 

“But while getting on-the-job training is highly valuable, you can also learn by watching how others perform those tasks or by shadowing someone at work,” he points out.

One thing to keep in mind is that we all have different learning styles. For example, some of us learn best by watching, others by doing or reading. Once you know which style you’re most comfortable with, you can then explore the best avenues of learning that utilise that style. The more learning styles you have the better, of course, as this opens you up to more learning opportunities. 

“Another thing to remember is to not limit yourself to traditional methods of learning,” Paul adds. 

“Learning opportunities are everywhere – we learn from others, we learn from our mistakes, we learn from past experiences, and we learn by trial and error. So, look for every opportunity to learn and keep an open mind. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, either. Proactively managing how you learn ensures career resilience.”

Here are five ways to develop your existing job skills and learn new ones that don’t involve formal education. 

1. Find an informal mentor

Look for experts who can share their knowledge with you or offer you advice, says Chuen Chuen. 

“LinkedIn is a great place to start your search for a mentor – you are sure to come across people who are willing to connect and share their experiences with you. 

“You can also find a mentor in your workplace. Not all companies have a formal mentoring programme, so it’s up to you to find a suitable mentor. 

“If you have a mentor, you’ll be able to receive evaluated experiences and develop contextual understanding faster. Mentors in your own company can also become your sponsors as you forge relationships with them.” 

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2. Join a business club

Business clubs offer services and benefits that facilitate the growth of their members. As a member, you’ll get opportunities to meet new people and business leaders, build a community of like-minded executives, expand your professional network, develop new skills, and learn about subjects that you’re passionate about. Membership in certain high-profile business clubs may also help boost your resume. 

Chuen Chuen says that having conversations with professionals in these spaces can help broaden your knowledge and perspective and also gives you the chance to flex your networking muscles. 

3. Create a personal brand as a thought leader

A good way to advance in your career is to become a “thought leader” — someone whom others look to for valuable and accurate information, guidance, and insightful and inspiring ideas. 

Thought leaders are people who have established themselves as experts in their field. They know how to connect with their audience and are generally regarded as credible and trustworthy. 

Thought leadership can boost your brand awareness, generate leads and open up new business opportunities. It can also help you be better at what you do.

Visibility is important if you want to be a thought leader. Chuen Chuen recommends getting on panel discussions and taking part in podcasts. You can also create and post content on social media. 

Becoming a thought leader requires knowledge and, of course, skills like writing and speaking, for instance. Remember that it takes time to build credibility and grow your audience, so you’ll need to work hard, be patient, and be willing to listen and learn from others. 

4. Listen to podcasts and read books

“Hearing the unfiltered thoughts and experiences from industry leaders that you look up to is another excellent way to expand your mindset and acquire new ideas,” Chuen Chuen says. 

“I also recommend reading books to update your knowledge and find out what’s new in the area of leadership practices.”

In fact, skill-centric books and podcasts are indispensable in an era that is concentrated around consistent upskilling and learning. No longer is learning purely one-dimensional, for we live in a world filled with an abundance of knowledge.

Find out what else you should keep in mind when it comes to upskilling

5. Attend trade conferences and webinars

These serve a similar purpose as business networking clubs but may be more targeted, helping you to identify the areas you want to delve deeper into, Chuen Chuen explains. 

To find trade conferences relevant to your industry, get in touch with trade associations and related professional organisations for event dates and locations. 

If you can’t physically attend a trade conference, you can take part in webinars. The great thing about webinars is that you can attend any session you want from anywhere in the world. You can even record the event and continue to learn from it. Webinars are excellent sources of information and a good way to engage online and network with other attendees. 

AI tools like ChatGPT have taken the world of learning by storm. Learn more about how it can be a valuable tool at work.

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