What is Upskilling and Why It Matters for IT Pros

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“People will tell you they’re too busy to learn or train or even attend meetings, but as soon as they lose their job they have plenty of time,” said Brian Mecca, president of CompTIA AITP’s Garden State Chapter and the Global Director of Infrastructure and Technology at Phibro Animal Health. “A lot of times they’ll wish they had done it sooner.”

There are two ways to boost your skills: Upskilling means improving your skills in the area you work, and reskilling is learning new skills so you can do a new job.

Upskilling is taking someone who knows about converting assembler code to COBOL learning python or another new coding language.

“They’re a programmer and they know how to program,” said Mecca, also Vice President of the Society for Information Management (SIM) New Jersey Chapter. “Upskilling is taking the time to learn new things, to make sure you are current with your trade. It’s someone who knows about hardware drives and mainframes learning about servers, or a switch person in communications learning about software-designed WANS.”

Reskilling, on the other hand, is when a systems administrator, who used to come and rack and stack servers, moves into cloud computing.

“It’s still some of the same functions, but you don’t rack and stack anymore,” he said. “It might be a different job, but they still need to know how things work to get it done correctly. You still need to understand how things work, like email forwarding rules, but you have to transfer your skill set.”

Whether you’re upskilling or reskilling, there are some strategies you can use to get ahead.

Get a Fresh Perspective on Your Skills

“Sit down and make a list of everything you do—not the skills but over a given week what have you done?” Mecca said. “Look back at what you did, and put an asterisk on things you like to do.”

If you’re handy with numbers, and have tracked accounting or budgets in the past, you could be a business analyst. If you’re working with people you oversee, set budgets, tasks and timelines, you’re a project manager. Do you meet with people to talk about the requirements of a certain project? Look into what it takes to be a systems analyst. 

“Don’t pidgin yourself into the hole,” he said.

Update Your Resume

Figure out what jobs are plentiful and what the market is looking for today, and find ways to make your skills fit those molds.

“Talk to somebody who is going to be brutally honest, especially when it come to your resume,” Mecca said.

Your resume should read like a menu. “It should tell you something about what it is you’re about to get, sort of condense all the information and leave your mouth watering,” he said.

“If it says, ‘Beef, served with starch,’ are you excited? Are you looking forward to that? How about ‘35-day, dry-aged prime porter house from our select ranch in Fargo, N.D., black angus beef served with truffle mashed potatoes with honey glazed carrots.’ Is your mouth watering now?”

A good resume tells a story and makes people interested, he said.

Scrub the junk—no one cares that you’re a Windows 95 expert—but make note of the antiquated skills that might still be valuable. Established institutions like hospitals still use hardware that runs on XP, for example.

“Sometimes the older skills are needed but they’re not always marketable.”

Work On Your Elevator Pitch

To refine your elevator pitch, time yourself and keep all the essentials to 30 seconds.

“If you can’t get your point across in 30 seconds, one, you’re too verbose and people will tune out, and two, people like to talk about themselves as well,” he said. “You want to have a banter back and forth. If you can’t say it in 30 seconds, it’s too much.”

What you did 10 years ago isn’t relevant, and the last three to four matter more. Your current skills are the most important, and in a good elevator pitch, you’re looking to share:

  • Who you are
  • What you do
  • What you can do for a new company
  • What they can you do for you
  • How you can help each other

“Be brief, be sincere, be seated,” he said.

Learn About New and Emerging Technology

Show potential employers that you’re up to date on current tech skills by studying for and earning certifications. If you’re a networking person, try CompTIA Network+. If you want to get into the ever-growing security field and have a handle on basic IT stuff, look into CompTIA’s new Cybersecurity Analyst certification (CSA+).

“Go to one hour presentations, meet with other people. Find a professional setting with other people where you can learn different things,” Mecca said. “If you’re in a company that will let you take training or give you time off to take classes, that’s great, if you can’t attend formalized training, go to these meetings, like CompTIA AITP or one-day seminars to at least get some experience and some knowledge of it.”

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