Three Techniques To Maximize Career Growth Through Upskilling In Every Career Season

African American female student studying from home during lockdown

In the ever-evolving job market, upskilling is the linchpin for professional resilience and staying competitive. ZipRecruiter’s 2024 Labor Market Outlook highlights transformative shifts driven by AI, green technologies, and evolving workplace norms. Now, more than ever, workers can set themselves apart by actively acquiring or refining skills to navigate unprecedented opportunities and challenges defining the contemporary workforce landscape.

Acquiring new skills to enhance one’s value in the contemporary workplace isn’t just for newcomers or early-to-mid-career climbers. As more and more corporations relax degree requirements, and with Boomers delaying retirement and Gen X expected to follow suit, today’s workforce spans multiple generations and professional stages. This diversity presents a wellspring of opportunity. Imagine, for instance, an organization is tasked to adapt generative AI tools in a workforce characterized by dynamic generational diversity; Gen Z, as digital natives, may excel in programming systems, seasoned professionals contribute wisdom and experience, and those in mid-career act as invaluable bridges, connecting cutting-edge technology with practical insights that make it effective. 

Adopting upskilling is more than a necessity; it’s a collaborative, cross-generational journey that enhances the entire professional landscape. ESSENCE analyzed data and consulted experts to distill three techniques that maximize career growth through upskilling at every stage of one’s professional journey.

Seeds of Success: Nurturing Purposeful Growth in the Spring of Your Career

Professionals in the early stages of their careers (mid-20s to mid-30s) should actively seek diverse experiences, focusing on gaining knowledge rather than solely pursuing promotions. As an HR professional who nurtured junior and early career hires, I’ve found that the most successful individuals were those who embrace ‘generalist’ roles. The aim is not to become an expert on everything but to have a basic knowledge of many things. Lateral moves, even if initially disliked, are valuable for understanding personal preferences and identifying where you fit. 

In my observation, the key to investing in this generalist approach in early career is mainly psychological; FOMO is real. The fear of missing out on opportunities and not measuring up to peers can weigh on individuals regardless of career stage. Witnessing colleagues progress faster can be disheartening in the short term, but with the downsizings, upheavals, and changes that inevitably happen in a career, having diverse experiences makes individuals more attractive in volatile markets and equips them with the resilience to navigate uncertainties in the professional arena.

Rotational programs provide an excellent opportunity to develop early career generalist experiences, enabling participants to explore various facets of a particular field. Embracing opportunities for cross-functional learning also broadens the knowledge base, while staying attuned to industry trends cultivates a proactive approach to skill attainment.

Mid-Career Bloom: Nurturing Purposeful Growth at Your Professional Peak

When money, title, and position are no longer drivers, mid-career workers often experience a sense of stagnation, prompting them to seek new job opportunities and make a career switch. The average age for career change is 39. Dr. Patricia Anderson, a professor at the Forbes School of Business Technology, poses a crucial line of questioning for workers feeling dissatisfied at this stage: 

“Why am I pursuing this particular career path? Let’s say your answer is, ‘purpose.’ Then, ask, ‘Why am I pursuing this sense of purpose?’ You have to continue asking yourself, ‘Why,’ and eventually, the root of your discontent will reveal itself. Maybe your ‘why’ has changed. Maybe your ‘why’ has outgrown its purpose. The point is, you don’t need to hold yourself to career decisions, goals, or ‘whys’ that have outrun their purpose.”

Mid-career professionals seeking a pivot should focus on upskilling strategies tailored to align skills with their newfound sense of purpose. Rather than chasing titles, the emphasis should be on targeted learning in areas that resonate with their passion and desired direction.Dr. Anderson says whether or not you find yourself at a career impasse, acquiring digital and industry-specific skills is necessary at all career levels.

Wisdom in Autumn: Branching Out for Late-Career Flourishing 

Experienced professionals entering the autumn of their careers bring a wealth of assets, including experience, stability, and professional networks. Their adaptability, mentorship skills, and refined leadership, often complemented by strong work ethics, emotional intelligence, and crisis management abilities, are pivotal contributors to organizational wisdom and success—these soft skills anchor team dynamics. 

Recognizing the shift towards skills-based hiring in 2024, acquiring AI skills places seasoned professionals in a prime position for roles that prioritize practical competencies while also highlighting their capacity to adapt to evolving technological demands.Moreover, late-career professionals can enhance their trajectories by seizing upskilling opportunities to actively participate in assessment teams, leveraging their experience to assess candidates and shape hiring practices. This involvement leverages their ability to recognize soft skills in candidates and positions them as key contributors to the dynamic landscape of skills-based hiring. 

Remaining curious and interested is important at every career stage to ensure resilience, relevance, and fulfillment in the dynamic professional landscape.

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