I’ve taken a break in writing about my normal topics (AI in the workplace, upskilling) because I’m building Alexa skills for my portfolio and documenting the process here.
For background, I’m a UX researcher and conversation designer who was laid off from a conversation AI startup back in March. I’m building Alexa skills to experiment with voice design, and maybe get hired along the way. This is the third skill of five (here’s the write up of Alexa skills one and two).
After building two dialogue-heavy skills, I wanted to create a simple skill. I also wanted to try a feature in Voiceflow where I could pull data from a Google Sheet. This is super useful if you want to make conversation design easier and make your Alexa skill more dynamic.
Instead of writing all possible Alexa responses into Voiceflow, you can instead pull them from a Google Sheet, assign them to a variable, and use that variable throughout your conversation to access the data. I wanted to try this out.
The massive online course platform, Coursera, is offering a selection of free online courses with certificates until July. That means you have access to free online courses for massively upgrade your career. If you’ve ever thought about learning a new skill by taking an free online course, this is the time to do it.
In normal times, you’d pay $49 a month to use Coursera and make progress towards a certificate. But we’re in coronavirus times. So Coursera is giving away access to free online courses with certificates to help you upskill.
Last August, I spent the month teaching my audience how to upskill themselves. Upskilling is one of those words that’s still a little bit out of reach for most people. It hasn’t entered mainstream just yet.
While term upskilling isn’t at the top of most people’s minds, it’s about to go mainstream in people’s professional lives in 2020.
First, people love to kick off a new decade with big, bold moves. People are eager to build on ideas from the previous decade and start again, both in their professional and personal lives.
Second, the pace at which change is happening in our workplace is staggering. LinkedIn featured two posts this past week that highlighted the shifts we’re already seeing in the workplace. The first, “Where have all the secretaries gone?” covered the disappearance of administrative assistant jobs, often staffed by women without degrees. There was a quote in that article that really struck me:
The death of employee loyalty is just one of many changes happening in our workplace.
Traditional career paths are changing
The second article that LinkedIn highlighted was on the teacher shortage. More teachers are opting out of teaching because of low pay. While our lack of teachers is a national problem, it struck me because teaching used to be a sure fire fulfilling career path. It was the secure job that people often changed into when they wanted an escape or were burned out. Now days, not so much.
On top of that, we see more articles about the new types of jobs created by new technology. Articles like this one, which highlights architects working in video game design as a creative way to apply their skills. It’s yet another traditional career path that’s adapting to our new world of work.
It’s also enough to get any burnt out architect thinking, how do I get into that?!
It’s time to upskill yourself
The result is that a lot more people are starting to see the impact of new technology in their workplace. And they’re looking for ways to adapt.
Upskilling is adaptation. Though upskilling isn’t a household term just yet, it will be in 2020. Recent changes in the workplace are forcing us to look at our future job security.
Upskilling is a verb and a mindset. It’s the act of learning new skills to improve your professional life. It’s also a willingness to accept that things are changing. Upskilling is also the ability to take charge of your learning and development. The takeaway is that you can’t rely on employers to teach you the skills you need. You have to go after them yourself.
While the term upskilling is frequently thrown around in articles as if one can just upskill tomorrow, upskilling takes work. Every time I read an article in a big publication (looking at you HBR) by a corporate leader declaring that our collective workforce simply needs to upskill, I roll my eyes. Often the authors of these articles haven’t actually upskilled themselves.
In fact, upskilling is downright hard. I say this as someone who’s upskilling to learn data science. I also write that as someone who just wrote a book teaching people how to upskill. It’s hard because we haven’t been taught how to do it.
The benefits of the comfort zone are appealing. Steady (though not always satisfying) incomes, “secure” jobs, relaxed routines, and predictable schedules are as comforting to humans as they are to animals. In this phase, people limit their learning to things they learn on the job, not knowing that yesterday’s lessons rarely solve tomorrow’s challenges… Without skill upgrades or a willingness to learn, people are caught in a rut. They are unable to see when the next trend is about to catch up or when the current one is about to die. For the few that can see the new trend, the pain of having to upgrade their skills far supersedes the pleasure of staying in the comfort zone.
I hang out in a lot of new mom Facebook groups which means I see a lot these types of “i hate my job now what” posts. Being a mom, new or experienced, is tough. Adding to it a terrible workplace/boss/workload creates an overwhelming sense of failure and frustration.
I see a lot of women asking for a way out. And they should. Turning to your community – online and offline – is a good start to leaving your shitty job. There should be no shame in leaving something so unfulfilling, so toxic.
Since I just wrote a book that basically encourages everyone to leave a bad workplace (and change careers), I’m writing a lot of career change advice in Facebook groups lately. It reminds me of the days when I was a professional career coach and someone at a bar would ask me what I did for a living. I’d tell them I was a career coach and they’d tell me how much they hate their job. It’s impossible to stay quiet in those conversations. People who are stuck in their jobs need perspective, a bit of direction, and a friendly ear.
I’ve noticed that a lot of people who are stuck are hung up on the idea that they should go back to school right away. But they aren’t sure how to go back to school because it costs so much and even then they don’t know exactly what they want to do for the rest of our lives. That’s totally normal.
We were all raised with the idea that to make a career change we needed to go back to school. We were also taught that we were supposed to figure out the one thing we’d do for the rest of our lives. Going back to school is a debt-filled experience packaged as a investment in our professional selves. It creates a lot of pressure to choose the one right path. The result is often paralysis for those who are stuck.
Thankfully things have changed. We don’t have to pick one thing for the rest of our lives. Our careers are flexible. We’ll change multiple times over the course of our careers. Sometimes it will be big changes, other times, smaller changes. There are also far more learning experiences available to us that don’t involve going back to get another degree.
The first step in making a career change isn’t deciding to go back to school or not (in fact for many you don’t even need to go back to school to make a career change). To escape a bad workplace, you have to get to know your options. Identify all the possible paths for change, pick one, and then learn the skills you need to get on that path.
I’ve given so much advice in Facebook groups lately that I’m starting to feel like a broken record. So I’m dropping off an advice dump from a recent Facebook group post that covers the first baby steps of a career change.
Share it with anyone else who is stuck in their job and wants a way out.
First off, GTFO of your place of work that doesn’t deserve you. You’ve given and given and now you’re drained. There are so many people in your situation.
Start simple: commit to changing it. You don’t have to have a plan or make a big step. You can start small and commit to the exploration process.
Talk to people about their interests. Learn what other opportunities are out there by asking people about their work, how they got into their field, what advice they’d have for you. You’ll learn so much.
Then check in with yourself. What skills do you have? What are you good at? Make a list. Take stock.
Read job descriptions like they are tiny short stories and pay attention to jobs that interest you, not what you are qualified for. What sparks your interest? What type of companies interest you?
Read newsletters from industries that interest you. Listen to podcasts from leaders, companies, or professional topics that interest you. Make notes on the type of work that interests you. Look for possibilities and resist the urge to talk yourself out of doing something.
The workplace has changed a lot in the last several years. There are really good places to work, good teams, and better managers. Take small steps towards finding them.
Commit to change even if you don’t know what shape change will take.
THEN focus on finding the learning experiences that will help you get new skills.
Figuring out how to make a career change is a big barrier for many. After all, we were all sold on the idea that we simply needed a college degree and the right major and we’d be set for life. Nobody teaches us how to change careers. But the career ladder is dead, and the world of work has changed. This isn’t your dad’s workplace anymore.
We all need a bit of help when it comes to finding a new career. From how to pick a career path, to learning new skills, to starting a new job, switching careers is a daunting task for many.
How to Change Careers by Podcast
I launched the podcast 50 Conversations to help people change careers. Can you actually learn how to change careers by podcast? Maybe. But you can certainly get a lot of good advice on how to find a new career. The podcast offers 50 stories from people who have changed careers. They cover everything from how they knew it was time to change, how they found a new career path, to how they learned skills to make the jump. And at the end of each episode they give advice to future career changers like you.
Career paths, bootcamps, and career changes in your 30s, oh my
Career changes comes in many shapes and sizes. In my podcast for career changers, you’ll hear stories about people who took many different paths. You’ll hear about people who went back to school in their 30s and 40s. Listen to others explain how they choose a digital bootcamp or why they opted to go to community college. Hear stories from people who were burnt out and started their own business. You’ll also get to hear from people who have changed over and over again, always curious about the next opportunity. With 50 conversations, you’ll hear a variety of career paths, so expected and some less so.
“I need a career change but don’t know what to do”
If that phrase has escaped your mouth recently, the 50 Conversations podcast is definitely for you. The beginning of a career change doesn’t start with having a plan; it starts with exploring your options, commitment free. Listening to a podcast about how to change careers is an excellent start to the career change exploration process.
Free career advice in your pocket
Look, career coaches are fabulously helpful for helping you make a career change but they’re expensive. So consider this podcast for career changers a career coach in your pocket. You’ll learn how to make a career change in many different ways. Plus, I interview other career coaches to get their take on how they’re reshaping their careers.
Let’s address the elephant in the room first: LinkedIn is one of the least exciting places to spend your precious internet time. There’s good reason for that: it’s just a mixed bag of self promotion, #humblebrags, and weird nudges from LinkedIn to congratulate people you don’t know on their new job. There is far more interesting content to explore elsewhere on the interwebs.
I get that. I’m not here to convince you that LinkedIn is great. Instead, I want to make LinkedIn more useful for you. Whether you’re scanning LinkedIn because you need an escape from your job or because someone told you to be on LinkedIn becausenetworking, I want people using LinkedIn to learn something tangible that improves their career situation.
For the month of August I’m teaching people how to upskill. Upskilling is the process of learning new skills to improve your professional life. It’ll also help you stay relevant in a rapidly changing workforce. With so many ways to learn new skills, from digital bootcamps to certificates to online courses to YouTube, figuring out how to make it work for your career can be a challenge. I’ll teach you how from LinkedIn.
This will be an experiment on my part. I wrote a book about upskilling and career changes, so I’m bursting with useful content to share. I’ll be using some content from my book, as well as videos, podcasts, and other media I’ve collected about upskilling and career changes along the way.
There’s no homework for this course. But you can still participate. Follow along and if you have a question or want to share your experience, comment on the posts. I’ll answer your questions.
Below is a syllabus for the themes I’ll cover each week.
Upskilling: Nailing down a definition
Not just the robots: Why upskilling matters (hint: it’s less about robots and more about changing business models)
How to upskill: Bootcamps, online courses, and DIY learning, oh my!
Upskilling for career changers
Power Skills: The skills employers want most
Evaluating upskill options: Online Courses
Evaluating upskill options: Bootcamps
Evaluating upskill options: DIY Learning
Evaluating upskill options: Workplace Learning
Upskill now: Highlighting interesting courses and opportunities to get you to upskill this year
Skill-building bootcamp showcase
Online courses showcase
Open learning resources
How to find workplace upskilling opportunities
Crafting a personal learning syllabus
Using the 2×2 method to keep you relevant in your workplace
Embracing career changes and skill building as the new model for career success
Wrap up and next steps
I encourage you to send me questions, ideas, programs you like, and more LinkedIn. Feel free to connect with me with a message letting me know you’re interested in following the Upskill Yourself experiment.
And if you’re curious about how to upskill and change careers, I’ve got just the book for you.
Full confession: I spend more time on LinkedIn than Instagram. My friends make fun of me when I tell them this. It’s embarrassing because LinkedIn is easily the least exciting social platform to spend your precious internet time on. But I speak and write about emerging careers and trends in upskilling, so LinkedIn is part of my daily internet consumption routine and embrace the awkwardness of it.
This week LinkedIn popped a recommended course into the top my feed.
That action reminded me that LinkedIn has an entire catalogue of courses on offer, a fact that I’d totally forgotten. Clearly this was the intent of the designers. They wanted to remind users like me that LinkedIn isn’t just a place to read professional #inspo stories of people you don’t know.
With this new free time I’m launching a new summer project. It’s based on my love of podcasts, conversations, and people. 50 Conversationsis a limited run, mini-podcast featuring informal conversations with career changers.
Mini-podcast is really just code for informal podcasting because these audio nuggets won’t include intro music, editing, or sponsors. It’s simply short conversations with people who have made the jump from one career to another. You can sneak a listen to these stories on your commute and between meetings.
Seriously. How you doing career services? Hanging in there?
I ask because things are looking a bit rough. I just read a summary from NACE’s 2018 Student Survey on the resources students use most in the full time job search. The numbers are bleak.
Source: NACE, The Job Search Resources Students Use, Find Most Useful
Yiiiiiikes. Only 26.2% of students who used career fairs found them helpful, 9% for virtual career fairs. Career services puts in a ton of work for these events and students are like,
Only 20% of students surveyed found employer presentations useful. Same for having employer reps on campus. Both resources takes a tremendous amount of coordination and logistics in career services.
Alumni relations touts the benefits of connecting current students with alumni but alumni-as-a-job-search-resource didn’t do much better. Only 15% of students who tapped alumni found them useful.
But the worst bit is that 50.3% of students considered company websites useful in the job search while only 21.6% considered the career center useful.
If students find company websites more helpful than the entirety of resources and people within career services, then what is the goal of career centers?
With this kind of data it’s pretty clear career centers need to change things up. And that probably feels like an overwhelming task right now.
I know you guys work your faces off. You’re underfunded and understaffed. After being the department that was ignored for years, all eyes are on your department because now you’re suddenly responsible for all the outcomes. As a former university MBA career coach I worked in a system that valued outcomes above all else. In MBA land, outcomes = rankings and rankings > everything else. Tying your work to student outcomes with metrics defined by outsiders doesn’t make change any easier. In fact, it makes it harder.
But just because it’s hard doesn’t mean you can’t, and shouldn’t, change it up. Those numbers don’t lie. Students don’t find value in what you’re offering.
I’ve had plenty of positive, passionate conversations with many of you who are bursting with ideas to change the status quo in university career centers. I know that many of you feel limited in your ability to make change happen.
So here’s my advice to you, the career services professional who has refreshing, bold, impactful, fabulously bad ass ideas that will transform career services for the better: make it happen in 2019.
Wait, wait. Let me rephrase.
Here’s what I want you to do:
Go rogue, break the all the damn rules.
Here’s how to do that:
Ask for forgiveness not permission.
Don’t wait for leadership to change things. Change begins with you.
Apply for leadership roles even if you’re not qualified. Push through personal doubt.
Pitch radical presentations and workshops for every single university career services conference. If they don’t accept yours host a webinar at your school or for your personal network instead.
Actually, host a webinar on the subject anyways. You’ll learn valuable marketing and public speaking skills in the process.
Join the conference committee for your regional or national career center conference. Vote for radical presentations from underrepresented voices.
Listen to and lift up underrepresented voices in the industry. Change and new ideas come from diversity of perspectives and experience.
Apply for board openings at national university career organizations. Challenge outdated ideas.
Experiment with new workshops and coaching methods (even if its your first year on the job).
Host a design thinking workshop to get better ideas into your department. Then execute on them.
Question the status quo. Ask why. Keep asking why.
Find your power squad. Find the people who ask why, who challenge the status quo. Get inspired. Then build something together.
After you build it, reflect. What worked? What will you do differently next time?
Strive for impact not outcomes.
Measure your impact. Then promote the shit out of your success. Don’t expect others to notice.
Make a list of every.single.resource and workshop your department offers. Then ask why. “Why career fairs? Why resume reviews?”
Then ask how. “How might we do this instead?”
Every time your department or leadership claims they are innovating, ask how. Then ask what makes those initiatives innovative.
Get students involved. Ask them what they need.
Better yet, give them a budget and support to create a program they need so they get experience creating and collaborating.
Stop looking for ideas at elite schools and in departments with all the money. Instead, look at all kinds of institutions for new ideas (especially community colleges)
Get to know recent alumni (ignore alumni relations – reach out on LinkedIn personally). Interview them. Translate alumni insights and experiences into new initiatives.
Disrupt is an overused phrase. But career services needs to change and change fast. If students get more value out of a company website than they do your center, things are really not ok in career services.
So to my fellow career coaches who are nodding their heads along to this article, bursting with ideas: go forth and create chaos. Wreck the status quo. Challenge your leadership. Become the new leadership.