Learning a new professional skill

Blog Home / Life at Appen   •   December 20, 2019

Learn a New Professional Skill

As the global workforce evolves to include more contract work and new sets of skills, professionals must be able to adapt to ever-changing trends. By engaging in lifelong learning, you can stay on top of workforce trends and learn the professional skills you need to thrive.

Learning a new professional skill is simple once you know the proper techniques. First, discover which soft and hard skills may be most relevant to the current workforce to help you determine which skills you’re interested in picking up. Then, follow our seven steps for learning a new skill in the fastest, most efficient way. 

In-demand Professional Skills

You’ve probably heard that there are both soft skills—behaviors and personality traits—and hard skills—measurable and practical abilities. Having a balance of both will help you be successful in the workforce. To help you start your learning, The World Economic Forum reported on the top 10 soft skills professionals will need to thrive in 2020:

  1. Complex problem solving
  2. Critical thinking
  3. Creativity
  4. People management
  5. Coordinating with others
  6. Emotional intelligence
  7. Judgement and decision making
  8. Service orientation
  9. Negotiation
  10. Cognitive flexibility

The above is a holistic picture across many fields and is meant as a general guideline. You may have other soft skills that you think are important for your profession, and some of the skills above may not be as relevant to your field. 

While you can likely take online courses on any of these soft skills, it can be difficult to measure how your abilities progress. That’s why we recommend focusing on cultivating hard skills, which naturally complement the soft skills you’ll need to succeed. For example, learning to code supports soft skills like complex problem solving and critical thinking. 

We’ve come up with a list of hard skills that are currently highly relevant to the workforce, expected to continue to be important in the coming years, and support the soft skills above. Use this list to start brainstorming which skill(s) you’d like to explore learning: 

  • Coding
  • Technical writing 
  • Copywriting
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
  • Data visualization
  • Microsoft Suite; i.e. Excel and PowerPoint
  • Languages (Chinese, Spanish, etc.)/Language translation
  • Project management
  • Digital marketing
  • Data science

You should also research important topics in your field to find out which skills you should be focusing on and keep up-to-date on current news. For example, in the tech field, areas such as machine learning, artificial intelligence, and cloud computing are becoming incredibly important.

Use the ideas above to help you determine which professionals skills are most important to you – and make a list! Then, follow the steps below to learn a new skill quickly and efficiently.

Seven Steps to Learning a New Skill

When learning a skill, there are several steps you should take to set yourself up for success. Regardless of the new skill you are trying to learn, there are several common factors that can make learning a new goal feel challenging: 

  • Your learning goal is not specific enough
  • You’re not sure where to start
  • You’re getting frustrated by lack of progress
  • You’re comparing yourself to experts

The good news is that these challenges can be overcome. Follow these seven steps to achieve success:

1. Choose one skill that is meaningful to you

Experts say that choosing a skill that is meaningful to you is the most likely pathway to success. As you review the skills above and create a list of the ones you want to learn, make sure you’re choosing skills that are both relevant to your field and of personal interest to you. If the skill isn’t meaningful to you, you’re unlikely to make the commitment required to learn it. 

Once you’ve made your list, narrow it down to the top five skills that are most relevant to your work and that you’re most interested in learning. From there, select your favorite three. Finally, sort your top three from highest priority to lowest priority. Your top priority skill is the skill you should work on first. You should focus on learning only one skill at a time—you can return to your other priority skills once you’re finished with the first. If you try to learn too much at once, you’re likely to get overwhelmed.

2. Set a specific level of proficiency

Think about what level of proficiency you’d like to have in your chosen skill. Aim for a target that is reasonable and measurable—it’s not reasonable to expect to be expert level within a few months, for instance. You may want to research what proficiency level may be expected for someone in your desired field or occupation and select a manageable goal from there.

As an example, if you’re learning coding, a level of achievement you could aim for is building your own website. Or if you’re learning data visualization, your goal could be to produce a presentation explaining a movie plot through data. Learning a new language? Watch a popular movie in that language and be able to understand the dialogue and plot.

Once you’ve reached your chosen achievement, you can decide you’re done—or you can return to this exercise and set a new, higher proficiency goal. 

3. List important milestones

You have your target level of proficiency, but you’re not ready to get started yet. Your next step is to break down your goal into sub-goals, or milestones. For example, if you’re learning Excel, make a list of the key functions that are most critical. Organize these sub-goals or milestones into what’s most important to learn, to what’s least important to learn. By focusing on one milestone at a time, you’ll feel much less overwhelmed.

4. Evaluate your time commitment

Plan out the time you’ll commit to learning the skill. Ask yourself: How much time am I willing to give up each day for the next 30 days to acquire this skill? Thirty minutes? One hour? Once you’ve committed to a set amount of time, make it visible to yourself by either adding it to your calendar or setting a daily alarm to indicate to yourself to get started. By making a visible commitment, you’re more likely to put the time in each day to work. 

If you find yourself unwilling to give up enough time and feel you are too busy, this could indicate that the skill you chose isn’t meaningful enough or important enough to you at this time. Consider selecting another skill or revisiting this exercise when you have more time.

5. Select resources based on your learning style

You know yourself best, and you likely already know which methods of learning work best for you—whether it’s watching videos, reading books, or something else. To make learning as easy as possible, find popular resources in the categories that complement your learning style. If you’re not sure whether you’re a visual, kinesthetic, or auditory learner, experiment with different types of learning resources to see which resonate the most with you. 

Remember to keep your workload manageable. For example, it’s probably not a good use of time to read all of the popular books on a subject. Instead, skim a few of them for the main ideas. The most important pieces of information will appear frequently, so you’ll get the gist quickly anyway.

If you’re not sure where to look for resources, there are thousands of online courses you can start with (available on sites like Coursera, code.org, Udemy, Lynda.com, YouTube, and more). A simple internet search can connect you with the right subject matter. You can also search for simple how-to books online and borrow them from your local library.

6. Learn by doing

While books and videos are helpful resources for learning new skills, spend most of your time practicing instead of researching. The phrase “learning by doing” is very true—you’ll learn fastest by engaging in interactive learning rather than simply reading about a topic. If you’re learning project management skills, for example, you can read about top project management tips, but make sure to then exercise this advice by using those tips to manage a real project.

7. Celebrate milestones

Remember that list of milestones you created? As soon as you complete each milestone, consider that a big win! Progress is progress, and you should be sure to celebrate each time you hit one of your sub-goals. Celebrating the small wins motivates you to keep going to get that next celebration, so reward yourself when those moments come.

At the end of the day, learning a new skill doesn’t mean you need to become an expert on it. You only need to be proficient enough to accomplish your professional goals. Avoid comparing yourself to other experts in the field, as this will only discourage you. And most importantly, practice, practice, practice.

 


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