2020 is the Year of Upskilling

Feb 2020 Update! If you’re curious about upskilling, check out my LinkedIn Live session, WTF is Upskilling?

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.

That’s all about to change in 2020. Upskilling is going to go mainstream in people’s professional lives. 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:

Rita Maxwell had no idea she was about to lose the job she’d had for nearly 20 years when her boss told her to meet him in the conference room at the end of the work day. “I was completely taken aback when he called me into the meeting room to let me know my position had been eliminated,” said Maxwell, who was let go in early 2017. “There’s just not a lot of loyalty anymore.” Administrative assistant jobs helped propel many women into the middle class. Now they’re disappearing.


The death of employee loyalty is just one of many changes happening in our workplace.

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.

In addition to the two articles, I also stumbled on this map of the fastest disappearing jobs in the US by state.

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?!

New career advice book: Punch Doubt in the Face: How to Upskill, Change Careers, and Beat the Robots
I wrote a book to teach people how to upskill.

It’s time to upskill yourself

The result is that a lot more people are starting to see the impact, good and bad, 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 thanks to the impact of recent changes in the workplace.

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, take charge of your learning and development, and not burry your head in the sand.

While the term upskilling is frequently thrown around in articles as if one can just upskill tomorrow, upskilling is not an easy process. 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 these articles are written by people who haven’t actually upskilled themselves.

In fact, upskilling is downright hard. I say this as someone who is doing it and 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.

It makes me think of a quote I read last year from Tech in Asia, How to stay relevant in today’s rapidly-changing job market:

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.


The comfort zone is cozy. But it’s the opposite of adaptation. A lot of mid-career professionals need to escape the comfort zone.

Making a plan in 2020 to upskill yourself

If you’re curious about how to upskill yourself, follow me on LinkedIn where I’ll be hosting trainings in January and February. You can also dive into some of my previous posts to get a handle on where we’re headed in the future of work (or get my book):

AI is Going to Wreck Your Carefully Planned Career

The Pain of Upskilling

If listening is more your style, here’s recent podcast I did on how to outsmart artificial intelligence and develop your future.

If you’re looking to upskill your workforce, take a look at how I teach employees how to upskill and invite me to speak to your employees.

Burn the career ladder down it doesn’t work anymore

That’s a snippet of the advice I shared during my guest appearance on Your Confident Self podcast.

I had such a ridiculously fun time talking with the delightful host and coach, Allegra Sinclair. I could have talked with her for hours.

In the episode, How to Take Control of Your Career and Remove Fear, I shared all the things about how the world of work is changing, whether robots are taking all our jobs, and why the career ladder is dead.

Give the episode a listen and then subscribe to her podcast for more goodness.

Want job security? Become a data translator

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.

Thankfully you don’t have to be a data scientist to work with data. There are plenty of data-based opportunities that aren’t as hardcore as a data scientist. Some of those opportunities are summed up nicely in this HBR post, You Don’t Have to Be a Data Scientist to Fill This Must-Have Analytics Role

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 keep failing at upskilling so here’s profesh New Years Resolution #2

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).

Last week I found this wonderfully in-depth article on learning to code in 2018. It’s written by Andrei Neagoie, a senior software developer, who is currently “building the ultimate course to teach dev skills.” The article is written in a way that made me feel like I could most definitely absolutely learn javascript in 2018.  If you’re thinking about upgrading your technical skills (even if some say it might be too late for your industry), read the article.

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.

So here’s to 2018, the year of the upskill!