A new calendar year can often seem like a good time for a change of job, but that doesn’t always mean cutting ties with your current employer. Recent Government initiatives like Springboard+ are aiming to increase the rate of lifelong learning among the Irish workforce.
As part of the Europe 2020 strategy, EU member states should aim to have a 15 per cent adult participation rate in lifelong learning by the end of next year. According to Aontas, the national adult learning organisation, Ireland currently has a lower than average rate, with under 7 per cent participation.
“Success in your career is very much geared around continuous learning and improvement,” says Jayne Lee, corporate psychologist at Davitt Corporate Psychology. “Upskilling is a great way to explore change in your working life, without taking the more dramatic step of actually changing companies or industries completely.”
While Government initiatives can provide structure and financial support, many workers have started to actively seek education and retraining as they hit a plateau in their careers, or move into new life stages. “We often see people in their late 30s to early 40s who have spent a significant amount of time building their career and are now unsure of their next step,” says Lee.
“Often, these individuals have built up a wealth of experience and skills sets that can be readily transferred to a different area within their current organisation and they want to find out how best to do this.”
Upskilling may be motivated by career advancement or financial reward, however, according to Lee it often comes down to job satisfaction. “Around this age, people can also have a much better awareness of themselves and what motivates them as well as what they enjoy doing, in comparison to those at the beginning of their careers who are just finding out.”
For those looking for a change within an organisation but unsure of where to start, the initial step might be to assess your surroundings. “Even if there appears to be no path for upskilling within your organisation, there are a number of things you can do independently,” says Lee.
“The first step to take is to look around you – who are the people you admire in the company, whose role do you find interesting? What path did they take to reach that position? Find out if that person might be prepared to mentor or coach you.
“It is always worth asking whether there is a budget for training and development, even if it is not something which is formally offered,” she adds.
Increasingly, many larger corporations are seeing the benefits of maintaining the people they already have in the organisation, and are offering employees opportunities to return to education and retraining in order to move to new roles.
Hannah Condron, personnel development manager at Aldi Ireland, says the company encourages its employees to learn new skills throughout their careers. "Development and training is hugely important at Aldi," she says. "We provide a suite of training programmes for our teams as well as the opportunity for employees to climb in their career through our internal career progression model. This gives our people the opportunity to build a career at Aldi, and progress within the company while expanding their skillset."
Providing continual support to the employee is important throughout, according to Condron. “We give our employees the tools that they need to keep learning so they can continually grow. There is both linear and lateral movement throughout.”
Many companies also offer opportunities to upskill and move to a new location, facilitating change while keeping some of the security the company can offer. “We offer secondment opportunities globally, from Europe and Australia to the US,” says Condron, “It is a real chance to be taken out of your comfort zone and given a new platform to highlight capability and talent, but you can always expect the support of Aldi throughout.”
From a career guidance standpoint, while upskilling by yourself is possible, doing so with the support of your company or through coaching is likely to be a much easier course. “If it is possible, work with your manager on a career development plan and map out the best course of action to take,” advises Lee.
“Upskilling need not only mean academic qualifications. It can also include development of ‘soft skills’ such as self-awareness, leadership skills and relationship-building techniques. All of these are vital in terms of progressing your career. Executive coaching can also be invaluable in this regard and can help build a road map for how best to progress your career and develop the leadership or other interpersonal skills you may require to move to the next stage.”
While the Action Plan for Education, which aims to push Ireland’s participation in lifelong learning to 15 per cent for 2025, will continue to push for further incentives for Irish workers to upskill, there are more immediate rewards available, according to Lee.
“Showing your employer that you are willing to learn new skills is a great way of demonstrating that you are ready for the next step in your career and that you are engaged, not just with your own role, but also engaged with the organisation and its long term goals and objectives.”