WorkWise: Starting a Job: Learning for a Lifetime
Learning for a Lifetime
There was a time when most people did the same job for 30 years. Now, staying a long time with one company is very rare. Today, people should be ready for a job change at almost any time. To be successful in any career, you must keep learning, keep up with the latest news, and keep refreshing your skills.
Employers value workers who are willing to learn new things. In most careers and jobs, you will see constant change. That's one reason it's so important to be adaptable. Plus, learning new skills is one way to earn a promotion. The more you know, the more you can do, the more valuable you are to your employer.
To go forward in your career, you may also need a new credential or degree. You may need training to learn to use new equipment or software. You will also need to increase your knowledge and skills. To move up at work, you may need training in managing projects or people.
While learning is hard work, the good news is that you will be increasing your chances for success. Learning new things can open up new opportunities. Explore and make a plan for your learning that will help you move forward. There are many ways to continue learning while you are working in your job.
Consider continuing education.
Continuing education programs include classes for adults who have left the school system. If you do not have a high school diploma, your ability to get promotions and move forward in the company or your career will be very limited. You could take classes and prepare for the high school equivalency test. Some companies offer classes, or they may offer tutors or give you time off to work on this important goal. If you want to find a program to help you earn your high school equivalency, one place you can look online is the National Literacy Directory: www.nationalliteracydirectory.org.
If you have a diploma, you can still continue your education. Often, increasing your education level will lead to higher paying jobs in your company or elsewhere. Check with your local community college to find out about certificate programs in your field. You can also talk with a career counselor or your local job center for training opportunities.
If the idea of going back to school seems overwhelming, think about taking one course. Adult continuing education classes cover many useful topics and are usually affordable. You could take a three-hour cooking class that costs only about $50. An accounting class meets one evening a week for 10 weeks and costs about $125. Longer courses to earn certifications will require more hours and cost more money. But there may be financial aid available.
Start with one class, and build on your education until you reach your goal. Go to your local library, community college, or job center to ask about classes in your area.
Learn more about your work.
One way to learn more is to be open to opportunities to learn at work. Look for on-the-job training for using equipment or software. Shadow co-workers to learn their techniques. Learning more about other jobs in the company may help you to do your own job better.
To hang onto your job or to move up the ladder, you'll need to keep up with what's going on in your field. New products and software are developed all the time. People develop new procedures and build new equipment. If you learn about new innovations in your job, you will be a valuable employee.
There are two different ways to keep up with the field and learn more about your work. One is to take advantage of on-the-job opportunities. The other is to learn on your own.
Learn on the job. While your company may have mandatory trainings, do not let your learning end there.
- Company training.
Most companies want their employees to succeed. If an employee is well trained and motivated, the company is less likely to need to replace him or her. Companies don't like having to replace employees because it costs them both time and money to hire and train new people.
Ask if your company has a training or education program. Along with your mandatory training, you may be able to attend other training classes.
Your company may have courses that you can attend on your own time at no cost. Courses could cover job skills, computer skills, academic skills, or soft skills. Sometimes, you can get a certificate of completion, which you can put in your files or your work files. List these courses on your résumé and your LinkedIn profile.
Courses can be in-person trainings or online. Take advantage of both, so you can learn how to do well in both settings.
- Job shadowing.
You may be able to spend a day or some time with a person in a higher-level job watching that person at work. This is called job shadowing. This is an excellent opportunity for you to explore the skills and knowledge you will need to go forward in your career.
You may also be able to learn new skills that are not part of your current job, by cross-training in another department. This is one way for you to gain new skills you can use if you got a promotion or in order to switch jobs within the company. Sometimes learning about other jobs helps you to do better at your own job.
- Volunteer to help with a project. Sometimes companies will ask employees to volunteer with extra projects, such as organizing a staff party or working on a fundraiser to help a local charity. Volunteering is a great way for you to learn and practice skills, get to know other employees, and show your leadership skills.
- Find a mentor.
Another way to learn at work is to find a mentor. A mentor is someone who has worked in your field longer than you have and is willing to give you guidance.
Look for a mentor who is:
- Experienced: has at least five to 10 years of experience in the field
- Respected: is respected by others in the company
- Gracious: polite, caring, and easy to get along with
Your chosen mentor may or may not be your boss, but should be a person who has worked for the company a long time. Take time to figure out who you think will be a good mentor for you. You can ask your boss or co-workers who they may recommend. When you find someone, invite that person for a cup a coffee and ask if he or she is willing to give you career advice from time to time.
When you meet with your mentor, have some questions ready. Tell your mentor your career goals. Then listen and take notes. Think about his or her advice. Here are some good questions to ask your mentor:
- What do you think I need to learn about my work?
- What do you think I should learn about the company?
- To get to my career goals, what next steps should I take?
- What challenges have you had in your career? How did you face them?
- What training, education, or certification do you recommend?
Learn on your own. Sometimes there are no opportunities to learn at work. Or maybe you've decided to explore a different job field or get a degree. You'll need to look for classes outside of work. Here are some ideas that can help you.
- Company benefits.
Some companies will cover all or part of the cost for you to take community college classes. You may even be able to start a degree program or a certificate training program. If the course relates to your job or to a position above yours, your boss may be glad to pay for the training. Sometimes you can take time off work to attend classes.
A company may also pay for employees to attend a work-related conference. Ask if there are conferences, conventions, or meetings for people in your field. Often these meetings are good places to network and learn more about careers in your field.
- Noncredit classes.
Community colleges or local business schools may offer noncredit classes to help people with job skills. These may cost some money, but are usually not very expensive. You can learn new skills from professionals in your field. Classes like these can also be good places to network and find jobs.
Your local library has many resources to help you. First, they have books. Rather than spending $25 for a book, you can often borrow a copy from your library. You may want to read about opportunities in your career field or study for a class. Ask a library staff person to show you where they keep books related to your career.
Along with books, you can often find DVDs and audiobooks. Listening to an audiobook while riding a bus or exercising is one way to make the most of your time. Your local library may also offer free workshops for adults on various subjects, such as computer skills. You may be able to use a computer at the library to study, do homework, or take online classes. If you do not have a library card, now is a good time to get one.
- Free Online Classes
In addition to library classes online, there are many sites that offer free classes to build your skills and knowledge. Here are some examples:
- Goodwill Industries has an education site that offers courses in computer and other technical skills: www.gcflearnfree.org
- Alison has many free online courses: www.alison.com. When you complete a course, you can pay about $30 to download and print a completion certificate.
- Coursera offers both free and low-cost courses: www.coursera.org
When you are looking into online courses, consider taking courses in your career field, workplace skills courses, or technology courses.
Courses related to your career field may help you do your job better or get a better job. For example, if you are in health care, take courses in biology, anatomy, or nutrition. If you are in construction, find courses in carpentry or plumbing.
Courses on general workplace skills can help you to get along with people at work. For example, you can find courses on how to solve problems, relate well to co-workers, be a good leader, and achieve career success.
Keeping up with technology can help you in almost every career. You can find courses in how to use Microsoft Office or other common software programs, how to create presentations, how to set up and use social media accounts, and how to build websites.
Take some time to explore free online courses. Find at least three that you are interested in. You have many options to keep learning. The time you invest in learning will pay off for you later. Work with your boss or your mentor to make a learning plan.
When you earn certificates or complete courses, add those accomplishments to your résumé and your LinkedIn profile.