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.
In my last role I talked with MBA recruiters about their hiring needs on the regular. When I asked what they were looking for in a candidate the most common answer was: people that can work with data. The need for data-savvy candidates spanned industries and roles. An MBA doesn’t guarantee someone has experience working with data. At the time MBAs were still trying to upgrade their curriculum to include this skill. Yet overwhelmingly hiring managers wanted people who understood how to work with data. These conversations happened in 2016. Now the need is even greater.
Data powers modern organizations. Your ability to identify relevant data, evaluate it, work with it, and communicate what actions to take based on it, is crucial to staying relevant in the business world. And this isn’t just for MBAs – this goes for anyone working in a business organization.
Companies have widened their aperture, recognizing that success with AI and analytics requires not just data scientists but entire cross-functional, agile teams that include data engineers, data architects, data-visualization experts, and — perhaps most important — translators.
Data translators are exactly what they sound like: people who can translate data into meaning. These are the employees who bridge the “technical expertise of data engineers and data scientists with the operational expertise of marketing, supply chain, manufacturing, risk, and other frontline managers.” They’re natural communicators and collaborators. They adapt and understand business goals across teams. Data translators have major soft skills with a solid foundation in analytics. They’re are also highly employable. IBM estimates that by 2020 over 2 million analytics roles will need to be filled. Those organizations are going to need a shitton of data translators.
According to the HBR article above, the best hires come from inside the organization. This means you’ve got a chance at positioning yourself for this future-proof role.
If you’re not using data in your current job you have two options: find another role so your skills remain relevant or create your own data translator role within your department. This is a new, evolving role. Data translators may not currently exist in your organization. Or they may exist but operate under a different job title.
Prepare for the role by exploring opportunities inside your organization to work with data. Get to know your data science team (if there is one). Start a conversation with your boss about your involvement in data-driven projects. Ask about the departments goals. Ask which data is already analyzed and used to support business goals. Identify which data-driven projects exist on your team and then find a way to get involved or at least shadow the project. Create your own data viz project by watching YouTube videos about Tableau and using relevant data from your department. Present to your team about your findings. Then identify a department that you collaborate with regularly. Get to know their business goals and how they work with data to make strategic decisions. The ideal data translator works seamlessly across departments. Getting to know the people in other departments – as well as their business goals – will position you well for any data translation job. Also, you can supplement all of this with online courses. Coursera and FutureLearn have excellent options.
Your ability to work with data is a must-have skill. You need it if you want to move up. But you also need the skill to ensure your relevance in the next 5 years of workplace evolution. If you don’t have the skills and experience to work with data this is the time to start upskilling and adding data analytics to your skill collection.
I struggle with upskilling. I’ve failed out of more Coursera courses than I can count. I struggle with procrastination and attention (it’s the online course vs. the entire internet vs. Twitter vs. Instagram). Five ago I completed a Financial Accounting MOOC from Wharton just to see if I could do it (I did). Since then I haven’t managed to make it through a coding class or a data analytics specialization, despite desperately wanting those skills and being quite curious about them).
I’ve signed up for his ultimate course. As a course designer I want to see his instructional design approach. As a career coach, I want to understand the process people go through as they try to upskill, so I can build better courses to help them do it. As a person who needs to get her shit together and upskill, I want to upgrade my technical abilities and build interactive websites.