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How to upskill and keep learning as a contractor
With more people choosing to work as contractors, and opportunities for steady work growing, it’s important to ensure you remain an expert in your field. How can you do this? Keep looking for learning experiences, chances to learn new technology and tools, and other ways of keeping industry knowledge current.
With the fast-changing landscape of tools and technologies, it’s a challenge to keep up. Also, without access to company training programs that might be available to fulltime employees, it can become even harder to prioritise learning new skills. However, with your flexibility of schedule, and self-driven attitude, you may find you have even more time to upskill both your hard and soft skills.
First, decide what you need to upskill
To decide what skills you need to work on do some research on upcoming trends and complementary skills in your industry. For example, maybe you want to pick up a course on SEO or UX writing if you’re a freelance writer, HTML coding as a designer, or new scheduling tools as an executive assistant. Follow industry blogs that predict what’s coming up, and you’ll stay ahead of the curve.
Pay attention to what clients are asking you to do. If you start to notice a majority of clients asking for knowledge of a new tool, or a new aspect of your industry, this may be something to research, and later add to your list of skills and knowledge.
Take courses online and in-person
Once you’ve decided what you need to upskill, start looking for courses that may help you out. Courses are available online or in-person. If online works better for you, look into platforms like Coursera, Udemy, and other online learning platforms. They offer both free and paid courses, which you can take at your own pace, many with the option of a certificate, and organised by highly respected people and organisations.
In person, look for classes at established learning centres like General Assembly, who have campuses in Hong Kong and Singapore, or other continuing education centres. Other in-person options include courses at community centres, or short-course that are open to the public, but conducted at universities or colleges.
Factors to consider when looking at a course
Schedule and budget
Depending on your budget, choose between short courses that require a one-time payment or courses that are over an extended period of time and may be in the form of monthly course fees.
It’s also important to look at whether a course is self-paced or if you’ll be held to a pre-set schedule of deadlines. For example, you may not receive any ‘credit’ for the course if you don’t keep up and finish on time. This can be tough if you’re already working full-time and have other time constraints.
Scrutinise the course syllabus and think about the format you prefer. Highly structured courses dictated by the course provider ensures you’ll work on a specific set of skills. A looser approach will lets you enrol in a combination of courses and take lectures in any order. Self-paced courses give you all the content upfront, allowing you to jump in at any point.
With a limited time and budget, you will need to set clear objectives on what you hope to achieve out of the courses. There’s a difference between academic learning to broaden your mind and skill-based courses that teach you specific skills. Ask yourself what it is that you’re hoping to achieve, so you know which classes would be best suited for you.
Other ways to upskill
Aside from a formal course, here are some other, less structured ways to develop your abilities.
Find a mentor
Reach out to experts on LinkedIn or experienced professionals and learn from someone who is already where you want to be. Speak to them about their experience, how they got to where they are and what they learned along the way. You will gain plenty of professional insights talking to someone who is already an expert in their field and clarify if you need to take up professional courses to develop your skills.
Talk to others inside and outside your industry, so you can broaden your mindset and circle of connections. Networking helps you get other perspectives on what skills are essential in your industry, and what might become essential in the next few years. It will also help you to develop your interpersonal skills.
Sign up for webinars, podcasts and live events
A simple Google search will bring up a ton of webinars and resources that are available online. While quality can vary, many of these free online events offer valuable information within short-easy to digest sessions. Webinars and podcasts are great because there’s a recording which allows you to tune in at your own time.
Some live events and talks are free, and you’ll get the benefit of learning new things as well as meeting new people. This is also a great way of learning from experts and building your own know-how without committing to a huge investment.
Embrace learning on the job
While you’ll be busy in each gig working on what you are hired to do, pay attention to gain off-hand knowledge about other functions and other departments. Simply observing and asking questions about processes and procedures gives you new learnings that can be applied to future work.
Being a contractor means that you often need to sell your experience and showcase your value to employers in order to stand out. Therefore, it is important to be open to learning new things and to constantly seek out new knowledge and skills to add to your CV. After all, that’s one of the advantages of being a contractor – the constant ability to learn new things, and apply them to your next big role.