It’s that time of year again. The holidays are just around the corner, and before long we’ll be ringing in a new year. Naturally, it’s a time when we all pause to think about where we are in our lives and careers, and where we’re hoping to go.

Whether you’re dreaming of a career change, or simply wondering what the next step is in your chosen line of work, you can be sure that the opportunities available to you will be directly proportional to your skills—and their viability in the current job market.

But is now the right time to develop your skills? We’ve put together a few signs to look out for that it’s time to invest in learning.

1. You see other people getting promoted around you.

Getting passed over for a promotion stings. But before you resolve to grind even harder, remember that taking the next step isn’t solely tied to your current performance. (In fact, that’s often a recipe for failure). You may need additional training to reach the next rung on the ladder. For instance, a seasoned visual designer may not be qualified for a digital product designer role until they’ve gained skills in user research and strategic thinking.

To solve the problem, employ a bit of reverse engineering: note the requirements of the job you want, identify the specific skills you lack, and take a disciplined approach to learning them.

2. You’re not finding relevant openings in the job market.

If you find yourself scrolling through page after page on the job boards looking for opportunities that match your skill set, it’s probably time to re-calibrate. In today’s fast-changing job market, this isn’t unusual. After all, jobs like app developer and data scientist didn’t even exist 10 years ago. Now they’re integral to how we work and live—and are often compensated handsomely.

To stay ahead of the economy, develop skills that both interest you personally and align with what employers seek. And remember the old Chinese proverb: The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is today.

3. You’re watching your own discipline evolve.

As technology speeds ahead, many jobs are evolving with it. Unless your job primarily involves physical labor, this applies to just about everybody. But exactly how technology is going to re-shape your particular job varies. “Skill shifts will play out differently across sectors,” notes a recent McKinsey report on automation in the workforce. “Healthcare, for example, will see a rising need for physical skills, even as demand for them declines in manufacturing and other sectors.”

What types of skills are your best bet to focus on? The McKinsey report cites a dramatic increase in demand in the following three areas: 1) higher cognitive skills 2) social and emotional skills, and 3) technological skills. Find out which most apply to your discipline, and consider investing in some training to stay ahead of the curve.

4. You constantly rely on other people to get things done.

It’s funny when technology escapes your grandparents. Less so when it escapes your co-workers. You don’t want to be that guy (or girl) who’s continually bugging the people around you for help keeping up. And yet, if that’s you, you’re not alone. Only 16% of executives believe their teams have the capabilities to deliver on their digital strategy, according to a recent report from Deloitte.

The fact is, digital proficiency now extends far beyond learning how to navigate Google Docs or share files on Dropbox. It’s an entire way of working, encompassing communication, collaboration, product development, project management, and more. And speaking of more, Moore’s Law tells us that it’s only going to get harder to keep up. The solution? Get into the habit of learning new skills now.

5. You don’t think you need to upskill right now.

That’s right, the fifth and final sign that you need to upskill is that you’re not upskilling. Even if you’re feeling secure in your current position and it seems like your abilities dovetail with market demand, you still need to keep learning.

This is partly because of everything we’ve been talking about—as technology advances, you need to keep your skills sharp. But more importantly, you need to learn continuously because learning is a skill unto itself. It’s like a muscle, and if you stop learning it becomes much harder to start again. So put deliberate effort into learning new things, whether it’s reading a book or taking a class. Because learning how to learn is as important is as important as defining what skills to learn.

Take it from somebody who knew a thing or two about success: “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.”


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