In the day-to-day rush to get everything done at work, one important task can easily fall by the wayside: Keeping up on your own skill development.
It’s easy to fall into a rut and overlook or ignore new and emerging skills you’ll need to keep pace with the industry and advance your own career. A September 2014 survey from training firm Udemy found that 61% of Americans believe that today’s workforce is plagued by a skills gap, but they don’t think they’re part of the problem.
Beyond the gut check, there are some ways to do a self-check to see if that’s really the case, says Jason Hanold, founder of executive and board search firm Hanold Associates. Here are six quick checkpoints you can use to determine if your skills are on track to get you where you want to go.
People who are intellectually curious tend to look at the world around them and ask questions about what’s going on around them, Hanold says. No matter what your function or role in the company, you need to be asking, "What’s next?" he says. Is the industry adopting new standards or technology? Are there emerging services that will require new skills? How is your profession changing—and do you know how to do the things you’ll need to do to keep up? Asking those types of questions will help you think about areas you might want to improve, he says.
Search consultant Donna Svei says you can get clues about what’s next when you look at what’s being sold to your industry. Walk the vendor halls at trade shows to see new technology or best practices in doing business. Similarly, ads and advertorials in trade magazines can give you a heads-up about what major industry vendors are developing to service your industry.
Hanold likes to ask people, "How do you stay smart?" In other words, find out what industry publications, blogs, online newsletters, social media accounts, or web sites they follow to remain informed. Read those to get a sense of the skills it takes to be more successful in your field.
John Paul Engel takes the suggestion one step further. The president of Knowledge Capital Consulting wrote a piece for a trade publication about emerging industry trends. That allowed him to interview thought leaders from major companies about what they saw as important developments in the field. He also recommends connecting with colleagues on Goodreads to see what they're reading.
Even if you’re not looking for a new job, it’s a good idea to review job posts in your industry on a regular basis, Svei says. If you start to see demand for skills you don’t have, begin building those areas to keep yourself marketable.
Svei says that important clues may be all around you. Are new hires recommending software or processes with which you’re unfamiliar? Is your supervisor giving you low marks in some business skills during reviews? Don’t ignore these signals, she says. "If your company hires one person over another because he’s a power-user of a software you don’t know, you should consider learning that software," she says.
In addition, look at areas where you’re struggling, Svei says. Are you being asked to work on projects that are a stretch for you? That’s often a vote of confidence, but don't miss the opportunity to rise to the occasion by learning some new skills.
In addition to taking cues from your environment, Hanold says it’s important to set your own development goals annually. And don’t overlook the general business skills you might need as you step up a rung on the career ladder. Hanold says that when he asks CEOs to describe why certain employees don’t work out, the reasons are often related to soft skills like humility or ability to collaborate or work with team members.
Engel says training is available for virtually everything you need to learn, whether it’s through a local college or university where you can take classes to online options like , Lynda.com, or others.
From big-picture industry trends to culture-specific skills demanded by your company, understanding and acting on the skills you need to develop is important for long-term job security. By staying open to the clues around you, you can gain important insight into the skills you’re going to need to land your next promotion or your next job.