Even before Covid-19, changing technologies and new ways of working were disrupting jobs and the skills employees needed to do them. Now, workers across industries and careers must figure out how they can adapt to rapidly changing conditions, and reskilling and upskilling is a reliable way to ensure professional resilience in the post-pandemic era.
By adding new proficiencies or bolstering existing skills, you're not only facilitating the development of your personal and professional learning goals, but also adding value to your marketability within your industry. While professional education is a critical tool for workforce relevance, it's not a one-size-fits-all solution. With an abundance of options and variations, it can be difficult to objectively know which learning opportunity will provide the industry-specific insight and hands-on experience you'll need to make your skillset recession-proof.
Here are some things to consider when choosing a professional learning opportunity:
Before launching into research on the abundance of potential learning opportunities, take some time to define your personal learning goals and the needs of your employer and the industry at large. Having narrowed your search to programs that align with these needs, look for curriculums developed by industry experts in the field to ensure credibility and quality.
“Industry professionals have an in-depth understanding of the inner workings of the ecosystem and have the ability to extend reach beyond the classroom,” notes Amy Corn, director of Georgia Tech Professional Education’s (GTPE) FinTech education program. “They are uniquely positioned to offer relevant and timely education on industry key concepts and trends leading to an enriching learning and development experience.”
Terry Tucker, a recipient of the Power Systems Certificate, stresses that not all educational programs are created equal. He finds that many provide “a lot of surplus information that really serves no purpose.” Instead, he looks at the depth of knowledge the people instructing the course have and seeks out professional opportunities that are “current, progressive, and solution-oriented.”
In today’s fast-moving economy, your learning program must be relevant and worthwhile. To ensure these, look for programs that utilize applied learning.
“With its hands-on learning approach, applied learning goes beyond academic book knowledge, bridging the gap between classroom theory and real-world practice, and gives you the tools and techniques to be implemented immediately within any organization,” says Chris Carter, director of the project management program at Georgia Tech.
By providing real-world-based projects—often in partnership with established organizations—applied learning also ensures that the course material is relevant and applicable to real economic needs, and it allows you to learn the required skills in a more realistic environment.
For example, while enrolled in the UX/UI Boot Camp, Isabelle Pinard helped a coworking start-up create a better interface for its website, conducting guerilla interviews at various co-working spaces around Atlanta. This project not only provided experience in design and research, but also helped her build a professional portfolio to share with her future employer.
“The project taught me how to understand those really juicy nuggets of what users need versus what users want,” Isabelle said. “I really took that lesson with me, and I apply it every day to my work at Google.”
With so many other things demanding your time, seek out learning opportunities that work with your schedule and provide flexible learning formats, such as face-to-face, online (asynchronous and synchronous), and hybrid options. This way, you can tailor your program selection to your learning needs as well as your schedule and location.
"Restructuring your routine to fit a program’s requirements is an unnecessary burden that will most likely make it harder for you to adjust and negatively impact your experience," says Nisha Botchwey, associate dean for Academic Programs at GTPE.
Instead, consider what type of learning works best for you and how well it aligns with your priorities. For instance, if you want to explore a subject area before committing time to a full program, taking an online open course (commonly called MOOCs) can offer a free, self-paced option for distributing learning when most convenient to you.
"The key is to find an option that fits your unique routine and career path to help manage the pressures of daily demands, allow for greater flexibility in your time management, and set yourself up for long-term success," reminds Botchwey.
As the economy becomes increasingly hybrid, it’s imperative not only to stay up to date with the latest technical skills and technology but also to develop your interpersonal or human skills. As automation continues to take over the repetitive or predictable aspects of jobs, the key to staying relevant is by investing in your uniquely human skills, such as leadership, conflict resolution, and change resilience.
"In today's global business environment it is essential for you to understand the nuances and essential components of communication across the languages and cultures in which you work," says Karen Tucker, director of the Georgia Tech Language Institute. "Not only will these skills increase your advantage in the job market, but they will also aid your ability to thrive in a new and changing work environment, strengthening your organization’s culture, and producing growth through your expertise."
As a new people manager in the manufacturing industry, Chris Shipman looked for professional certificate programs that blended technical and soft skills training to learn effective leadership practices. “For me, it was not just learning how to solve issues, but teaching my team how to solve them," he said. The result was an implementable, hands-on approach to learning that led to decreased error rates across his organization, enabling his team to make products faster and deliver them to customers quicker than before.
While there are many varieties of professional education, ranging from individual short courses to industry-specific certificates and professional master’s degrees, the question remains: How do you make the right choice for your career pathway?
"As needs of the workforce grow, it is essential that choices for career-long learning options grow as well," notes Nelson Baker, dean of Professional Education. "Alternative credentials, such as professional certificates, digital badges, and micro-credentials, can complement prior education and experience, helping working professionals reskill and upskill in ways that are closely aligned with their needs while also indicating new knowledge."
As an increasingly important part of the professional education landscape, alternative credentials focus on job-relevant skills and competencies and provide multiple on- and off-ramps to stay current within your industry or to advance in your current career. These credentials, especially when linked with workforce experience, can provide pathways into credit-bearing degree programs, imparting an additional level of depth to your overall expertise and allowing you to explore whether a program is right for you.
"Adult learners coming back to school to obtain an advanced degree or to complete a certificate program are more focused on something specific," notes Debbie Phillips, instructor in the Professional Master's in Occupational Safety and Health program. "They are like, 'Hey, I know I need to advance my career. I want to get ahead. I want to learn and to grow and to stay ahead of the competition.'"
Make sure you also think about what kind of career advice you may need. Taping into a personal network of mentors can help provide guidance on your development plan, such as trends to anticipate, career pathways to consider, and background knowledge necessary for a career pivot.
Above all, Baker emphasizes that your path to lifelong learning should be purposeful, targeting the development of key skills and knowledge with the right professional education option at the right time. "The goal is to keep pace with the changes in the workforce and remain relevant in your chosen field(s). Now and throughout your lifetime."