A question on the lips of many people as contingent labour and contract work grows, is how individuals can upskill without access to the training programs traditionally provided in full-time employment. It’s an important question to address and it heralds a turning point in workers taking control of their professional development which has arguably been overshadowed in the traditional employment arrangements.
Many workers have previously relied on organisations to allocate training, with their full-time hours limiting the time available to seek out external learning. Furthermore, this employer-based training can be sporadic and naturally more aligned to the business agenda than to the worker’s own interests. Contracting has paved the way for independent or ‘self-guided’ learning, which puts workers in driver’s seat of their skill development and is not nearly as daunting as one might think. Let’s explore the ways in which an independent professional can upskill.
MOOC (massive open online courses)
Advancements in technology have spawned a new breed of knowledge delivery through online platforms that offer the convenience that modern workers crave. Enter Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC). We’re in the throes of a fourth industrial revolution which demands an evolution of skills and greater fluidity in the concepts of job titles and fixed professions. MOOCs are the product of the democratisation of knowledge via the internet, and can help us achieve this.
Adoption of these interactive online courses (and the other learning methods discussed below) is dependent on accepting that ongoing learning is your responsibility as a worker to remain in-demand. With a huge array of topics, many of these ‘open source’ courses are free, while others (generally involving official accreditation) involve a fee. A key benefit of MOOC is the skill experimentation they allow with minimal investment. You can pick a skill, do a crash course of sorts to see if you enjoy it, or else switch to something different you are more comfortable adding to your skills repertoire.
MOOC also offers the more immediate solution to the question – how do you upskill for skills that are completely new? MOOC are perhaps most beneficial when it comes to acquiring emerging skills – new for both you and for the workforce. Take for instance, cyber security skills. Hiring Managers are searching high and low for this niche skillset, for which tenure and official accreditation does not really apply. Your initiative to harness the online content as it becomes available from pioneers in the field is enough to give you a competitive edge.
Here’s a list of perhaps the most well-known MOOC platforms:
- General Assembly
- Khan Academy
You’re likely thinking that tertiary education providers are no longer practical or relevant for an established professional. If they hadn’t begun to change with the times and move beyond a fixed curriculum, you might be correct. However in response to the competition of open-source learning (MOOC) and the encroaching skills gap, universities and TAFE providers are offering more dynamic, shorter and online courses to address skills shortages. For instance, the previously mentioned MOOC ‘edX’ is the brainchild of Harvard University. If online-only teaching delivery is not sufficient, most tertiary providers are of course tied to physical locations you can harness; though expect to see changes to traditional university environments as society reworks the viability of bricks and mortar spaces.
Financially speaking, TAFE in particular can also be a lucrative opportunity for independent professionals to learn an accredited new skill. Certain courses carry subsidies, dependent on state and eligibility criteria, so it’s worth checking out what is applicable to your situation. With Australia investing more in education around skill gaps (as witnessed in the recent Federal Budget), expect to see more developments and opportunities in this area.
Although self-guided learning will be the new norm, the future of work does not necessarily mean the death of company-sponsored learning. The likelihood of this will of course be dictated by said business needs and factors such as the length of the job contact and a contractor’s frequency of engagements with a company. Recruitment agencies sourcing and placing candidates into roles are in a prime position to offer or facilitate training opportunities to establish loyalty and recruiter of choice status within their candidate pool. Some of the bigger firms are already offering ‘value-add’ services such as these to shore up their talent pool. Furthermore, automation and the democratisation of software are making it easier and cheaper for companies to deliver teaching modules, which bodes well for contractors. Of course this should not be relied upon as a crutch or substitute for self-guided learning.
Freelancers who take advantage of co-working spaces (i.e. WeWork) may already be aware of the provision of training events within these tight-knit professional communities. Priding themselves as meccas in the future of work, these businesses are mobilising resources (sometimes from within their very own customer base of contractors/freelancers) to become learning ‘hubs’. Many of the organised events are free, but the downside is that the knowledge tends to be more general in nature. Use them as a springboard to a higher-level understanding of a skill, and then network further towards achieving a more technical rendering of a desired skill.
This brings us to an important point – networking can be key in learning a new skill by connecting you to people of interest that become part of your learning journey. Your professional network and LinkedIn is a great way to keep you finger on the pulse of new events and skill workshops.
In conclusion, there are a number of avenues currently available to contractors to upskill and take full ownership of their career progression. Workers needn’t be at the mercy of company allocated training and as the contractor landscape evolves, these learning opportunities will expand. Ongoing learning and skill adoption is the primary way of securing bigger and better contracts and finding the sense of purpose and financial security you long for.