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What is upskilling?: How to do it and why it matters

By Ellie Huizenga · April 25, 2023
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When I started working at Zapier as a content specialist, I'd never heard of the design app Figma—much less used it. And although "Figma wizard" was nowhere to be found in my job description, I quickly realized that learning how to use it would make me better at my job. So I read lots of help docs, tinkered with the settings, and used it for all sorts of projects.

What I did is called, in a word, upskilling. 

Knowing how to use Figma isn't just about adding an app to my arsenal: it also allows me to participate more effectively in strategic brainstorms, contribute design aspects to our blog posts, and collaborate with our design team. I'm a better teammate because of it.

Upskilling might be a fancy word for a very simple concept, but it can work wonders—for you and your organization.

What is upskilling? 

Upskilling is really just the corporate way of saying "learning new skills": it's when you learn a new skill (hard or soft) or develop an existing one in the context of your career. This could be anything from taking in-depth online courses and attending training sessions to simply learning on the job. Whatever the method, the goal is to grow your knowledge, stay relevant in your field, and contribute more to your company. 

Why should you upskill?

Upskilling has helped me stay motivated and engaged in my role. It means I never get stuck doing the same tasks over and over again, and I can continue to grow sideways in my role even if it's not time for a promotion.

But it's not just about internal motivation and job engagement. By continuing to learn and develop your skills, you'll:   

  • Become more confident in your abilities: If you battle imposter syndrome (🙋‍♀️), intentionally upskilling is a way to overcome those feelings. 

  • Find internal job success: Businesses are more inclined to promote and pay for individuals that upskill. For example, when I learned more about Figma, I was able to take a strategic lead on projects, which helped me get a promotion.

  • Increase employability: New and comprehensive skills increase your employability and marketability to future employers. I'm not planning on leaving Zapier anytime soon, but now I can add "proficient in Figma" to my resume. 

  • Boost job security: When you upskill, you remain an asset to your company because you're filling skill gaps on your team. When I first learned Figma, it was something that only a few teammates could navigate, so I became a valuable asset. 

Upskilling also has the nice side-effect of turning you into a team superhero, saving your colleagues from blockers and helping them move faster. It makes you a reliable employee that people can go to for help. And that brings me to the fact that upskilling is also beneficial for your employer. 

By providing opportunities for upskilling, businesses are more likely to find long-term success—because their employees will be top of their field. Plus, when businesses help employees upskill, they'll: 

  • Get less employee turnover: When companies invest in learning, development, and growth, employees feel valued, which reduces staff turnover, saving businesses the time and energy required to hire new employees.

  • Save money: Hiring a new employee is much more expensive than working to retain an existing employee. Plus, more skilled employees provide better work overall, boosting the bottom line. 

  • Bolster employee morale: Employees with growth opportunities tend to be happier and less stressed. This leads to increased employee morale, which positively impacts company culture. I definitely find this to be true. When working toward growth, I feel more connected to the company and our team. 

  • Increase productivity: A Gallup study shows that learning and development are a key part of how millennial workers want to live and work, and upskilling opportunities keep them more engaged, productive, and likely to stay at their current company. As a millennial, I can corroborate—learning new skills helps me stay engaged and excited about my work.

By investing in employee development, companies create a culture of continuous improvement, which leads to business sustainability and growth. 

Here at Zapier, we have a learning and development budget that allows employees to invest in the specific training they want. In the past, I've used my budget to buy books recommended by my editors, and I've also been able to join writing workshops and work with a mentor who helped me set my annual goals. All of this (plus my newfound Figma skills!) has helped me, which in turn, has helped Zapier. 

How to upskill at work 

Learning a new skill is daunting, but there are a few tried-and-true career-focused methods to upskilling. I'll use myself as an example.

Moving forward, I want to get better at SEO strategy. Becoming skilled in SEO and keyword research will make me a more well-rounded and valuable team member—allowing me to offer more strategic ideas during brainstorms and write better content. 

Here are some ways I'm going to look to upskill my SEO abilities:

  • Attend conferences and workshops: Many writing and marketing conferences have SEO and keyword research sessions. I'll look into different content marketing workshops (and ask my co-workers for recommendations) to see if any would be a good fit for me.

  • Take online courses: With the rise of online learning platforms, courses have never been more accessible. There are probably thousands of SEO classes out there, so it might take some sifting (and recommendations from peers) to find the good stuff, but once I do, I can learn at my own pace and from the comfort of my own home (which I love).

  • Pursue a certification: SEO strategy is a marketable skill, and earning a certification is a tangible way to demonstrate my knowledge to future employers. Lots of online learning platforms, like Coursera, offer certifications, or you could look for something from a more niche platform. In my case, a HubSpot certification might be my best bet.

  • Find mentors and coaches: I'm lucky: both of my editors are SEO wizards. And they've already started providing guidance, feedback, and support as I start to use tools like Ahrefs and seoClarity. If you aren't able to find mentors within your personal network, apps like BetterUp can connect you with someone.

  • Read and learn from experts: I've already started reading content about SEO and keyword research. Honestly, a quick Google search often does the trick, or you can ask mentors if they have any good book or article recommendations.

  • Participate in job rotations: If you're looking to learn skills outside your current role, job rotations are a great way to learn more about the different skills you might want to invest in.

Growth powered by upskilling

By learning new skills, knowledge, and competencies, you can stay ahead of the curve and differentiate yourself (both as an individual and as a company). So, whether you're looking to be a better teammate, get a promotion, or maybe both—look to upskilling. It worked for me!

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