Lately, I’ve been conducting webinars for aspiring business analysts. With this uncertain job market, public interest in upskilling, reskilling and new career paths has skyrocketed.
The questions I get most frequently are:
“How do I break into the profession?”
“Where can I get my first experience?”
“How can I find time for learning new skills with my current job?”
In my webinars, I ask the participants where do they go for training and reskilling. Most name the same resources: online courses, professional social media, webinars, and articles. They do their learning after hours. Most of this after-hours reskilling is passive — reading, watching, listening, and absorbing. It’s tiring, and it requires that you take time away from your family.
Is there an easier way to reskill or complement your efforts? What else could you do?
In your fervor to change careers, don’t miss the opportunities that already exist in your workplace.
The most underused free reskilling resource is your current employer.
Reskilling is a major concern for workers and employers. According to The World Economic Forum, 42% of the core skills required to perform existing jobs are expected to change in the next two years — by 2022.
Hiring skilled employees is expensive and time-consuming, so more and more employers acknowledge that reskilling their existing staff is a smart investment. According to McKinsey research, more than 65% of large private sector organizations see reskilling and internal training as a key strategy to fill the skill gaps.
As employers invest in learning and development programs, the return on their investment is not always what they expect. Why? A few reasons:
1. Employees may not know what is available to them. Online learning platforms constantly promote their courses, but a corporate learning and development group may not be as good at touting the corporate reskilling programs.
2. Employees may not feel confident enough to ask about reskilling because they are afraid to be perceived as “traitors” trying to escape from their current job.
3. Managers will not always support the re-training of their employees. This is usually justified by the time pressures of yet another critical project. The real reason could be the manager’s unwillingness to lose their best employee that makes them look good.
4. Last but not least, not all employers have a clear reskilling strategy. The learning programs may be confusing, lacking in proper career guidance for the workers, or have too much emphasis on theory vs. practice, according to the same McKinsey research.
Waiting passively for your manager’s encouragement or for your employer to develop a customized learning program is a dream. The best you can do for your career and your future is to take an active role.
Reskilling, like any learning process, has two aspects: gaining new knowledge and practical experience. Let’s discuss what you can do for each aspect.
If you have a good relationship with your manager, tell them about your goals and aspirations. Explain why you want to be a business analyst, a data scientist, or a digital product designer.
Ask your manager to support you in your development goals. Add these goals to the development section of your performance review. Many reviews never see these sections filled or contain meaningless fluff. It means that employees are not thinking of developing their careers beyond eventually replacing their managers (which they would not put on the performance review anyway).
Don’t wait for your manager or anybody else to suggest what you could do — thoroughly research it yourself. What you need from management is support for your learning goals, and ideally some protected time for your learning. This may not always be granted, and you may need to do it on your own time, but some employers are quite generous.
If you don’t feel your manager’s support, get help from the Human Resources (HR) department. Learning & Development (L&D) programs are usually under the HR umbrella and you will find out what your rights are. Perhaps every employee is entitled to certain paid training time? There may be an annual budget for you to spend on any training you want. There may be job rotation and secondment programs that you did not know about. One of the goals of Human Resources is to take care of the employees and help them navigate the employment world, so take advantage of that.
Check your company intranet. Search for “learning”, “training” or “development.” You may find a wealth of resources. Large companies often have membership in massive learning management systems, which means you can have access to online training courses, videos, electronic textbooks, and guidebooks for free.
Come up with your learning goals and then ask for an appointment with an HR or L&D representative. Ask for assistance to reach the best learning resources that your employer can provide you.
Those who make an effort to research and find out will reap the benefit of getting additional training and reskilling opportunities for free.
Now that you have started to take advantage of learning and training opportunities with your employer, it’s time to get some real-life experience. Apprenticeships and student co-op programs have it right — theory, books and presentations cannot replace the feeling of doing something yourself and seeing the results.
The feedback loop from practical experience cannot be replicated in the classroom.
How can you get your first experience?
Landing your first job in a new professional capacity is the most difficult when you are applying to companies that don’t know you. Employers are risk-averse, and often don’t have internal coaching resources and mentors to help a newly minted specialist learn on the job.
Your current employer, on the other hand, already knows you well. Your performance reviews are on file, your colleagues know your strengths, and you have useful connections. Plus, you already know the industry.
If you are respected and valued, you stand a much better chance of switching careers inside the same organization.
The second part of your professional development program with your employer must be to utilize opportunities within your organization to gain exposure and experience:
- Job secondments or rotations
- Project assignments
- Job shadowing
- Temporary assignment to replace a colleague going on leave
Let’s consider the example of my webinar participants. They come from a variety of backgrounds — engineers, statisticians, operations managers, and marketing analysts, and they want to gain business analysis knowledge and experience.
What I remind them every time is that business analysis skills are becoming ubiquitous. We have the opportunity to practice these skills in many areas — market analysis, product development, customer management, communication planning, and change management activities.
Volunteering to support a project as a subject matter expert, business tester, data researcher or project assistant is always a good idea. This may allow you to work with an experienced analyst, observe and learn from them. You can pick up practical skills and experience, and every time you hear an unfamiliar term, you can research it or ask for an explanation.
You can also volunteer to help a senior analyst with some of the tasks. Before you know it, you’re getting training and gaining new knowledge on the job.
If you want to change careers or at least try them on, your current employer is your likeliest friend.
It does not have to be a battle
We’ve all heard motivational quotes that encourage us to take the difficult road, the road less traveled. After all, easy roads never lead anywhere. We are encouraged to struggle. Struggling is noble. The struggle will make you strong. The harder it is, the bigger the reward. And what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger…
But before you choose the difficult path, try the easier one — get the support of your employer:
- Don’t wait for someone to come and tell you to consider learning
- Tell your manager that you want to stay relevant and to learn new skills
- Tell your employer if you would like to continue working for them, but be able to change a profession and do a different job
- Ask and find out what learning opportunities are available
- Be proactive and come up with your learning plan that you want your employer to support
Good employers know that their employees are more loyal when money is invested in their education.
“The only thing worse than training your employees and having them leave is not training them and having them stay. “— Henry Ford
When to make hard decisions
A good employer should celebrate your desire to upskill.
Companies don’t want to lose good employees. Each time an employee leaves because they did not see career opportunities for them, the employer loses twice. First, they lose a good specialist and need to replace them at a high cost. And second, they have just lost an opportunity to move this employee in the future to a different, perhaps more challenging job, and eventually will need to pay to find someone for that job, too.
You may lose too. If you liked your company, were treated fairly, and already knew the industry well, you may find that a new job will set you back while you are learning the ropes yet again.
However, you may also discover that your employer is not supportive of your career aspirations at all. If that is the case, you have just gained valuable information that will help you decide whether to invest more years of your life with this company.
Make the right decisions, and make them your own decisions, since this is about your future.
This article was originally published on May 20, 2020 in the Age of Awareness, a Medium publication.