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Keep learning new skills, it's the best career boost

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10th-Sep-2017       
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Gita Bajaj :
Never has continual learning been more important than today. In words of the writer and futurist, Alvin Tofler, "The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn". Employees today are not only stormed with new technologies but are also expected to anticipate what is coming, and champion these in no time. Those who slack a bit find themselves either on the bench or laid-off. Over the last two years, Microsoft, Ericson in Sweden, Japan Display, banks in the UAE and IT giants in India have laid off thousands of employees citing reasons ranging from cost-cutting to non-performance, new strategy.
The truth is that companies are reconsidering their strategy in the wake of technological innovations, visa restrictions, changed political philosophies, or trends wherein sectors such as oil & gas are losing their advantage. This implies that companies are ideating to find new ways of value creation for clients, explore new markets or introduce new products. No wonder, simultaneous lay-offs and recruitments are being noticed.
It is important to note the changes in skills and competencies demanded, making upskilling and thereby executive education no longer a matter of choice; in fact, it is the only survival tool.
What course to pursue is usually defined by the industry and the level of the employee. But in general, today every employee must take care of his or her psychological, relational and technological health. With high levels of stress, the need to ensure self-efficacy, self-motivation, role-clarity and self-direction are paramount. Professionals must recognise their challenge, and seek help to identify or face it upfront. Professional counsellors, and well-established profiling tools help get better understanding of self while training programmes help get insights, and executive coaches and counsellors bring a more personalised guidance to ensure a fresh outlook and rejuvenated spirits.
Times of change especially those that entail lay-offs, restructuring, mergers or acquisitions are times of great upheaval; and employees must understand political and relational games that play-out at such times.
The need to garner and make sense of information and negotiate one's way through the maze is a soft-skill needed to guard one's backs in the least and play-out full to influence and get things done on the other end. Chances are that employees who overlook this competency and focus only on domain expertise struggle for recognition or get weaned out first.
Training programmes on soft skills such as leadership, negotiations, cultural appreciations, conflict management, emotional intelligence etc., come in handy here.
However, the most immediate need today is to be skilled in emerging domains of job market. Companies are adopting AI, robotic process automation (RPA), cognitive tools and machine learning to speed up and replace decisions for human interaction. With availability of in-house data on employee and customer interactions, data analytics is poised to become the backbone of business decisions, causing a surge in demand for business analysts, market researchers, HR analysts and financial analysts and in turn for executive courses for these roles.
Another area of growth is entrepreneurship. Never has the ecosystem been so enabling; regulations are becoming friendlier and options to begin small or to fetch big money are aplenty. While many may believe that entrepreneurs are born, there is enough evidence to prove that there is much for them to learn, to be able to leverage some of the essential entrepreneurial traits that they may have. This is where courses on Entrepreneurship development, Social entrepreneurship, Venture Funding or Strategy help develop essential capabilities.
However, most technical trainings are longer duration courses that delve deeper. Counselling and coaching also demand high commitment. In fact, organisations with well-developed learning and development (L&D) divisions take trainings too with a long-term perspective though a larger number continues to consider L&D an expense.
Some companies even prefer to lay-off older employees to recruit and train younger graduates for lower costs. Obviously, these companies do not appreciate the edge that organisational culture, employee engagement, job satisfaction, happiness, work-life balance or citizenship behaviour bring to the organisation.
In any case, employees cannot wait for HR departments to wake up. Instead personal investment for upgrading skills is a wise choice. Professionals can take up free online courses on Coursera or EdX, can pay up small amounts to get certifications from prestigious universities like MIT, Harvard, University of Amsterdam and the likes.
They can join part time executive education courses or even full-time courses. The barriers to switching fields and domains have never been lower, pre-requisite being a constant high on self-efficacy. Seeking professional help to enhance mental well-being should therefore be accepted as a professional approach.
Finally, if the internal well-being and competence to manage people is in place, then it is possible to upgrade skills in multiple or varied domains. So, amidst all the lay-offs and upheavals, employees can adorn the armour of professional success - choose to get any education, at any age and, at any cost and escape to emerging domains at any point in their professional life cycle.
(Gita Bajaj is Professor of HR and Communication at IMT, Dubai)

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