Job search got you down? Stuck in a dead-end position? Maybe it’s time to learn something new.
There is a skills gap in the marketplace. In a 2013 study, only 15% of hiring managers said nearly all or most job seekers had the skills and traits their companies look for. There’s no better way to make yourself more attractive to a potential employer than to master something new.
Learning a new skill does’t always mean going back to school and racking up debt. If you’ve been out of school for a while, you might be surprised to learn that there are hundreds of online and offline learning platforms to help you figure out your next career move.
Lynda, Dash, Thinkful, Coursera and Udemy are helpful resources. All offer competitively priced online learning for a fraction of the cost of attending a traditional university. Better yet, students who take all or part of these types of courses online perform better, on average, than those taking the same courses through traditional face-to-face instruction.
With educational resources everywhere, it’s easy to add to your skill set for a very low cost or, in some cases, for free. Even if you’re not sure what your next step might be, learning something new has inherent benefits for your well-being and health, and these four side effects are at the top of the list.
Get Out of Your Rut, Expand Possibilities
If your current job gets you down, activating and challenging your brain may be the best remedy. The mental state of flow is a cornerstone concept of positive psychology. Flow is nearly impossible when engaging in a passive activity; it requires a challenge that pushes your skills beyond your comfort level. By learning new skills, you challenge yourself in a way that engages flow and can lead to happiness. Another bonus: Happier people also make more money.
When you challenge yourself to think outside the box, you open up the possibility for new and exciting opportunities, and learning a new skill may even lead you to pursue a completely different career path. While certain industries are in decline, others struggle to find trained and qualified applicants: One recent study detailed that “60 high-growth, high-wage occupations will account for 11.5 million new hires and 28% of job growth by 2020.”
Even if you don’t have the time or energy to completely shift careers, at worst you’ll go back to your old job with a new perspective and a refreshed mindset that ultimately may lead to more job satisfaction.
Meet New People, Network
Good educational opportunities should be social, whether that means taking place in a classroom or via online chats. Even something as simple as following the author of a book you like and engaging with them on Twitter forces you to start communicating with and learning from a larger community.
Through social learning, you’ll meet others in fields unrelated to your own and have conversations on topics outside of your normal sphere. According to some business experts, up to 80% of jobs aren’t posted online. Many companies hire through word-of-mouth referrals, meaning that your personal network can make all the difference in getting the job you want.
If you’re someone who isn’t inclined to attend forced “networking” events, a class is often an informal way to meet other professionals at similar stages in their careers; you even have a built-in conversation topic.
Strengthen Existing Job Skills
Maybe you aren’t looking to change careers, but want to move up in your current position. Often, adding a diverse set of skills to the mix will help you stand out from the crowd. Did you know, for instance, that improving existing skills in the workplace can have a positive impact on job satisfaction? Within a healthy organization, internal movement often depends upon demonstrated leadership and communication skills.
Communication, integration and presentation skills are required for about 40% of all positions and make up 11 of the top 20 skills that are required by 39% of the fastest growing, highest paying positions. Through education you’ll solidify your mastery of a subject. One consistent holdback for employees interviewing for a new position is the gap between perceived mastery and actual understanding of a skill. Since most job seekers are overconfident, hiring mangers recommend job seekers find a mentor, counselor or job coach to hone the skills that they lack.
In his Udemy class “How to Negotiate Salary,” Jim Hopkinson, a negotiation coach and author of Salary Tutor, says that learning to negotiate salary is a prime example of acquiring a new skill at any age. “I’ve found that so few people were taught this crucial skill; their parents didn’t teach them and they didn’t learn about it in school,” says Hopkinson. “Money can be a taboo subject among friends, and your boss certainly isn’t going to help you out. But now, I’ve had people in their 20s, 30s and 40s turn a few hours of learning into thousands of dollars in extra salary.”
Be Ready for What’s Next
Perhaps the best part about being a dedicated lifelong learner is the ability to stay ahead of the pack. You’ll be ready for any industry as it shifts from one direction to another: Think of the iPod’s effect on the music industry or the web’s impact on print. The most important takeaway from reading and taking classes is often not what you learn, but how to learn new skills so that you are prepared for the jobs of tomorrow.