4 Ways to Think About ‘Upskilling’

Everyone is talking about adding new abilities to their professional toolbox. But there are alternatives to time-consuming training.

“Upskilling” is one of the latest buzzwords in corporate offices, and along with that lexical popularity comes the assumption that everyone should be doing it, like becoming a thought leader or practicing yoga. Particularly in a workplace fueled by fresh technologies and new ways of thinking, “you need to continuously sharpen your skills,” says Deepali Vyas, global head of Fintech, Payments and Crypto practice at Korn Ferry. Upskilling, in the right situation, could help you remain competitive in the job market, qualify for a promotion, or earn a higher salary.

But do you really need to devote a big chunk of time in your already-packed day to master the art of being an AI-prompt guru, Scrum Master, or contract negotiator, among a plethora of other possible roles? Not necessarily, experts say. Formal upskilling, through coursework or graduate school, is often useful, but not essential. For curious people in dynamic working environments, it’s quite possible to learn all you need on the job.

One indication you might need to upskill, says Vyas, is if you’re underperforming or barely getting by, or if you simply don’t know how to do or oversee the projects or tasks you’ve been presented with. “If you find yourself not stepping up to the plate, that’s a sign,” says Vyas.

But there are alternatives to monthslong training courses or going back to school. Here are four of them:

Find a mentor.

A trusted mentor will be “invaluable in giving advice on your specific situation,” says Maria Amato, a Korn Ferry associate client partner and organizational-strategy expert. Yes, you probably know what skills are generally marketable in your field, but you need to understand precisely what skills would help someone of your standing and your experience level, in your niche.

Hire someone.

The best approach might be up-close-and-personal coaching to home in on the granular skills required to work through challenges in your particular role. “Getting yourself better at your role might be best accomplished one-on-one,” says Vyas. “Don’t be dismissive of coaching.”

Take a “micro-course.”

In the recruiting industry, “micro-courses” or “micro-certificates” are distinct from the deep-engagement dives of graduate-school curricula. Micro-courses are short-term programs focused on boning up on specific skills or technologies. Their goal is to achieve general familiarity with a technology or way of thinking. “They’re usually prompted by cutting-edge technologies, or leadership growth,” says Vyas.

Focus on what you’re already good at.

You’re likely going to get hired for the things you’re already very good at. One ongoing strategy, then, is to keep learning in those areas. “I’m a big believer in building on your strengths,” says Amato. The process is like exercise: It’s not over until you’re over. But it’s a lot more fun when you’re building on your strong suit. 


For more expert career advice, connect with a career coach at Korn Ferry Advance.