By Maryalene LaPonsie
With pink slips seeming to still lurk around every corner, many workers are anxious about their future job prospects. In fact, only 38 percent of workers expressed confidence in their ability to find a new job, according to the July Confidence Index calculated by the SFN Group, a workforce solutions company. Additionally, only 59 percent of those surveyed were confident about their employer's future, which means the rest could be apprehensive about their job security.
For these and other workers in a seemingly unstable labor market, having updated work skills is essential.
"The workplace is transforming... and fast," says Dave Roberts, a spokesman with the U.S. Department of Labor. "Very few employers are doing business the same way they did two years ago, let alone five or ten."
Because hiring managers often look for candidates who can contribute to a job from the very first day of employment, workers are starting to find it necessary to obtain up-to-date skills. This could be particularly true for older workers who find themselves competing against college grads with versatile skills and recent educational training.
"Nowadays, practically every industry revolves around current information," says Dr. Madeline Ann Lewis, president and CEO of the Deline Institute for Professional Development, a career coaching firm. "Never think that you know enough about any particular industry because even one day can bring about a change." 5 ways to make sure your skills are up to date
There are many ways you can make sure your skills are state of the art without committing to a full degree program.
1. Tap into online resources
One of the best ways to stay in-the-know is right at your fingertips. Subscribe to industry blogs for the latest trends and news in your field. There are also online webinars that provide more in-depth information and training opportunities. Keeping on top of industry news can be a good way to avoid being caught flat-footed in an interview when asked about an emerging trend.
"There is an amazing abundance of useful information on the Internet these days," Lewis says. "So much in fact, that it comes very close to being equally as effective as formal education."
You can also put your skills to use as a volunteer. This work looks good on the resume and provides networking and training opportunities. It can also be an excellent way if you are reentering the workforce to demonstrate your commitment and expertise. Christopher DesBarres, the owner of Help Unlimited, Inc., a money management firm that works with senior citizens, regularly hires retirees and working moms for his business and says volunteer work makes applicants stand out.
"Something that never fails to impress me is when applicants have done significant volunteer work that involves the skills they are trying to improve," he notes.
3. Complete a personal project
Another option that allows workers to brush up skills and demonstrate proficiency to employers is to complete a personal project. Not only can a personal project provide experience using new tools, it can create an item that can potentially be added to a work portfolio.
"For example, a graphic artist may create some pieces that are for their own personal use such as an ad for a garage sale, a brochure for their own business, or a flier for a family picnic," says Laura Allen, a Seattle-based career coach.
4. Conduct mock interviews
Conduct as many mock job interviews as possible to perfect your interviewing skills, according to Dr. Kevin Gazzara, senior partner of Magna Leadership Solutions, a coaching and leadership company. He also suggests that workers develop what he calls a Sustainable Competitive Advantage statement, or a brief summary that essentially pinpoints the benefits a job applicant brings to a company.
"Today it is a buyer's market for most jobs and there are more candidates than ever looking for work," he says. "Like the stock market, employers are not only investing in you for your current worth, but for your future potential value."
5. Enroll in continuing education
While informal training can be useful, there does come a time to enroll in that formal education program. However, workers should take their time to carefully evaluate a program in advance, according to Kellie Auld, a certified human resources professional and expert for Focus.com, a website that provides an open forum to share business expertise. She advises that people look into the ratings of educational facilities and ensure that their coursework will be recognized by hiring organizations.
"Formal education never hurts and I think we should all make 'life-long learning' part of our self improvement plans," she says.
For job seekers looking to stay ahead of the curve, these strategies provide a starting place for keeping skills updated. Employees looking for other ideas can network with those around them to see what they do to stay at the top of their game.
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