How is it Different?
In simple terms, Up-Skilling focuses on learning skills to optimise performance in an existing area, while the objective of Re-Skilling is to learn entirely new skills to meet ever changing environment. But before we delve more on the subject, let me share something with you.
It was early March 2006, when I landed at Chennai to join my first company as a freshly minted MBA from college.
I got a comfortable place to stay near the Marina beach surrounded by more than 150 years old University of Madras campus and the famous Chepauk Cricket stadium. Once settled, I quickly got down to work. My boss Mr. Gopal, as he was fondly called, was a General Manager in HR with decades of experience with a reputation of a hard task master. He had lot of expectations from me as a Management Trainee in HR. I spent the initial 6 months learning & managing back-end operations in the HR Department and slowly settled down into a nice, comfortable zone. I was building my process understanding and focused on delivering as per my role.
Then came the big shake-up in the Department. The group had two subsidiary companies whose HR work was centralised at our office. We used to have joint review meetings. Suddenly, my boss attached me with one of the subsidiaries and another senior colleague of mine started supporting the other subsidiary. Overnight, along with my existing role, I had the responsibility of supporting a team of 3 HR colleagues led by Mr. Muthu (name changed) who were much senior to me in terms of experience. After the initial shock, I started to work with this team. I soon realised the resistance and unhappiness in the team. We did not make any progress during the initial month.
Having taken up the challenge to turn things around, I wondered how do I win the confidence of my colleagues. One day, my manager called me and after exchanging greetings asked me a simple question. How well you know the team members and their challenges? I was taken aback and could not put together an answer. But, this question started a chain of thoughts in my mind. In this subsidiary, all the HR teammates were fairly educated, came from decent backgrounds and had been working for some time now. I realised that although the requirements of the company had changed but we were still working in the old style and had failed to change ourselves & our systems/ processes with the changing times. The challenge was as much with our mindset as it was with the required skill-set.
Once we realised the actual gaps, we started Up-skilling & Re-skilling the team, even before we had heard of these terms. Slowly, we uploaded all the records online, trained the team on excel, collected the missing data from the field and organised it for business use. We conceptualised and created an in-house HRMS with the help of our IT Department which was appreciated across the organisation. As we started spending more time together beyond work over delicious south indian team lunch sessions, I picked up Tamil language and my understanding of the team became better. The team had come together, realised the short-comings, worked on them consistently and results were there for everyone to see within a period of 10 months.
What is the learning in this real life story? It’s imperative to keep moving with times and always look to Up-Skill & Re-Skill ourselves. Work, worker & workplaces need to move in tandem. An organisation is no different than a human being as both need to continually reinvent & revitalise themselves to stay relevant.
So, who takes the charge for Re-skilling & Up-skilling, is it the individual or the employer? The employer can provide right context like a working environment where continuous learning is encouraged, the right infrastructure, budget & build non-monetary rewards. Do you think it’s enough to move an individual to invest time and efforts in his or her own growth unless the motivation to change comes from within? In my opinion, we as individuals need to take charge and be willing to change with times.
Having learnt Why it’s important, lets look at a 5 step guide on how we can Re-skill & Up-skill ourselves?
Self Assessment: Once we are convinced on the why, it’s time for some self introspection about where we are, what are our strength areas, which are our areas of interest and then identify a few skills to build on. At this stage, we should not be overly worried about something which didn’t work in the past as long as we have our learnings intact. Seek feedback from our friends and peers to identify missing pieces.
Identify Skills for Tomorrow: As the assessment is done, it brings us to the next stage of identifying skills for tomorrow which fit into our interest. It’s good to look at 2-3 future skills as per your strength areas. Reflect deeply on Why these areas are close to your heart & what is the impact these could have on your stakeholders like clients, employees, shareholders & larger community.
Follow Industry Trends: The need to do proper research on the current trends in your identified areas of interest can’t be over-emphasised. Read relevant articles, blogs, books, follow the right thought leaders, study the impact of technology, talk to people working in these areas with an aim to learn as much a possible. This would add to the context of what you are trying to acquire for future.
Manage Change: We know that the kind of company we keep has a profound impact on our thoughts and action. The right company would help in creating an environment where you can challenge yourself, learn from failures & successes and manage this transition period. Engage with thought leaders in the relevant areas. Try and do joint projects or offer help with an aim to learn. Use of technology can remove boundaries and help you reach out to seek help from people across the world.
Focus on Continuous Learning: It’s important to identify if there is good training available and invest in that. If one gets an opportunity to do a live project in the area of interest, grab it with both hands. Look for a real life need or a problem to work upon and try your hands at practicing your new skills. You can share the outcome with your peers and friends for feedback. The idea is to be agile and keep the flame going, to pick up new skills once in a while before the right opportunities come knocking at your door.
Conclusions: The world around us is changing fast and would continue to change. To keep pace, we not only need to do a great job at where we are currently but also need to be mindful of where the world is moving. It means following the above steps is not a one time cycle but one needs to repeat this cycle to stay relevant. People with an eye for future, who are willing to constantly challenge themselves by staying out of their comfort zones, who have the tenacity & discipline to consistently work towards improving themselves and looking at ways to add value to their organisations and communities would make a difference.
What are your thoughts? Why do you think one needs to Re-skill & Up-skill? Which could be some of the other ways in which it can be done? Please do comment and share your views.
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