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Word from the wise: Things to keep in mind when learning new work skills

31 May 2023 asked tech and talent acquisition experts for their advice on upskilling and continuous learning.

Here at we write a lot about sci-tech skills and how to continuously improve them. But what about the overall approach to upskilling? How do you know where to begin? And what kinds of things should you be keeping in mind so you can learn effectively and don’t get overwhelmed?

Richard Franck, director of technology consulting at KPMG, acknowledged that it can be difficult just to keep up because “the landscape of the potential topics that fall under the banner of ‘tech’ is expanding at a breath-taking pace”.

A ‘growth’ mindset

“The first piece of advice I’d therefore give is to try and zone in on what broad-stroke areas and dimensions of tech interest you, and concentrate on those areas first, though not ignoring everything else as it is all ultimately interconnected.”

Perhaps the most important thing you need to prepare yourself for the upskilling process is the right mindset. Franck clearly recommends an open mind, and so do others.

“A growth mindset” is something you need if you’re going to make any headway learning something new. Personio’s Natascha Moore realised as much when she joined the company during a period of hypergrowth. Initially overwhelmed, she said she “quickly realised that the key to upskilling in tech is to embrace a growth mindset”.

“Whether you are starting out in your first tech role, or simply trying to grow your existing skill set, it’s important to be open to new challenges, to embrace failures and setbacks, and, ultimately, to seize company growth as an opportunity for personal growth.”

Sinéad Thavenot, senior manager on PwC’s Think Digital team, also reckons a growth mindset allows for the adaptability and resilience needed to be competitive in what is a rapidly changing working environment.

“Be prepared to frequently refresh and update your digital skills,” she warned.

Do your research before you start

A growth mindset is important, but if you don’t do your research and figure out what your learning goals are you might get side-tracked.

Deloitte’s Akanksha Singh is a learning and development specialist who comes from a non-tech background.

“I firmly believe that the most valuable advice I can offer to those seeking to enhance their tech skills is to begin by pinpointing their specific area of expertise and understanding the reasons behind their desire to master that particular IT skill,” she said.

She recommended that people research the most in-demand skills within their industry. “For example, if you work in the finance domain, acquiring modernisation skills to transform banking solutions using the latest technology stack or programming language can be vital. Similarly, if you’re involved in healthcare projects or product upgrades/roll-outs, skills related to process automation or cloud transformations can greatly benefit you.”

Ask questions and be curious

“Talk to people around you,” said Thavenot. “Seek to understand how they use technology to work for them. Whether it’s a school-going relative or elderly neighbour, connecting with others on this vast topic can be insightful.”

She believes learning opportunities can arise in unexpected places and it’s wise to seize them.

Learn to suit your lifestyle

No, it’s not cheating. Incorporating learning into your daily life is just a smart thing to do. It ensures you’ll be more successful in acquiring good learning habits.

Plus, lots of pros do it too. Thavenot is a fan of podcasts, which she listens to while walking the dog and commuting to work.

KPMG’s Franck agreed on the podcasts point. And he said he likes to keep up with current affairs in his downtime. “I also have a set of ‘go-to’ online sites that I find are perfect for cross-industry views and news that ensure I keep up to speed with broader developments in areas I might not be consciously pursuing learning in. Silicon Republic being a long standing one, but others also relevant to my role, such as enterprise technology news at The Register, or interesting deep tech developments highlighted by Hackernoon.”

He pointed out that different people have different learning styles, and it is important to know how you learn best so you can figure out where to fit in upskilling time.

Your employer can help

Many workplaces have their own in-house upskilling programmes, so you should really take advantage of these.

“Don’t hesitate to seek support from your learning team, professional networks or the academy within your company,” said Singh, before pointing out that Deloitte offers workers access to “a range of channels and resources” to support learning, including Cura, Deloitte University, Learning Fest, LinkedIn Learning, and internal and external training opportunities.

Thavenot said that all PwC employees have access to a training coach to help them with career and upskilling choices.

PwC has rolled out its own online learning platform called Kubicle that provides data literacy and analytics skills. Thavenot is busy completing courses, which consist of a series of video lessons, on the site.

“This week, I completed my certificate on AI. Next up, I plan on refreshing my Alteryx skills.”

Find a mentor

Personio’s Moore advocates finding a mentor, as does Singh of Deloitte. Moore said that to identify the skills you need to work on, you should take time to listen and “build a great network with your team members”.

“It may sound like a cliché, but there should be no such thing as a stupid question. Find those peers with whom you can create a safe space and ask any questions that may be on your mind.”

“Mentors are also great people to ask for honest advice and feedback – and you should never be afraid to ask for feedback. It’s one of the best sources of learning and growth, at every stage of your career.”

Singh agreed that having a mentor is “invaluable” for her. She also pointed out that attending networking events can be a good source of inspiration and meeting people.

Know what companies are looking for

If you’re upskilling with a view to job searching then you need to know what skills are most in demand.

Jack Gallagher, head of experienced hire recruitment at PwC, said the company’s biggest skills gaps include “digital transformation, data science and analytics, cloud computing, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and software engineering.”

But tech skills are not the only skills recruiters want. According to Sophie Collins, senior talent acquisition partner at Personio, her team’s search isn’t about “just looking for those hard, technical skills”.

“Soft skills are just as important to us. For example, we look for candidates with strong communication skills and an openness to collaboration and feedback.”

Gallagher said PwC looks for leadership, problem-solving and communication in the soft skills bracket, among others.

Practise your skills and have fun

“A crucial aspect of digital upskilling is to practise your newfound knowledge,” said Thavenot from PwC. “Just like learning a language, it’s easy to let these skills slip if they aren’t put to work. Find opportunities to work on real-world projects.”

And Moore advised to be patient with yourself when learning. “Everyone has a different learning style, and it is important to understand how to tap into what works best for you. A word of warning – it’s likely going to be a trial and error process.”

You can keep your serious career goals in mind but don’t forget to “enjoy the exciting journey of upskilling,” said Singh.

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Blathnaid O’Dea
By Blathnaid O’Dea

Blathnaid O’Dea worked as a Careers reporter until 2024, coming from a background in the Humanities. She likes people, pranking, pictures of puffins – and apparently alliteration.

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