Learning new things in the workplace can contribute to a change in your career narrative, discovers Joanna Mathers

Plateau periods can be a frustration in any career. Wedged in between the inevitable peaks and troughs of vocational life, such plateaus can leave us wiling away the days in a state of quiet dissatisfaction.

But though these plateaus can be a source of frustration, they can also provide us with an opportunity to assess what we really want from our working lives. These periods allow us to engage in a little soul-searching, to consider whether a new direction might provide us with more vocational satisfaction and financial security.

Upskilling can offer those stuck in a career rut a way out. Upskilling is an effective means to facilitate career change; be it through simple in-house training or significant investment in a tertiary qualification, it can breathe life into a stagnant career.

Pat Cody is the principal advisor at Careers New Zealand. He says upskilling can be very useful in our lifelong career journey, but advises that individuals explore their motivations carefully before making large financial or time commitments to extra job training.


"Those considering upskilling need to be very explicit about what they want to achieve from the process," he says. "It's important to ask yourself 'what am I doing and what will the payoffs be'."

Though financial rewards may be seen as a good motivation in themselves, he says emotional and personal factors should be given equal weight when it comes to making decisions around career training.

"People need to be pragmatic about what the reality of upskilling will involve," he says. "If someone with a young family is thinking of taking on a degree, they need to make sure that their partner buys into the idea as well. And they need to work out how such a large commitment will affect their work-life balance."

Cody says it's also important to work out how "big a slice of the apple you want to bite off" when considering upskilling.

In-house training, project management, and secondment to different parts of the company can provide you with invaluable new skills that can be added to your arsenal without any significant outlay of extra time. Additionally, these skills can be acquired for free.

But if you are looking for a change of career or to add completely new skills to your repertoire, some form of external training will be likely.

"This training can be expensive and time-consuming," says Cody. "Taking on training on top of your daily workload is a big commitment. You will need to carefully consider the costs -- financially, how this will affect other things you want to do and other lives -- before making a move."

Talking to industry experts, careers advisors, coaches, and senior people in the area you are interested in can offer much needed clarity when it comes to making the decision to upskill.


"It's helpful to access 'career allies' who can help you understand the industry you want to move into and who also share the dream. Surprising things can come from sharing your dreams and developing such working relationships," he says.

This can also help forge new working relationships that may be of help when you look to move into new roles.

Cody also feels it's useful to identify whether you are looking at upskilling as a career progression or a jump into a completely different direction.

"It's important that you make this distinction," he says.

If you'll be taking a leap into the vocational unknown post-training, investigate how this will affect your day-to-day life. A different job may seem exciting and challenging (the grass is always green after all) but the reality can be quite jarring.

Talk to people within the industry to get a sense of what demands the new role will bring with it. There may be time constraints, challenging politics, more responsibilities, and increased competition within this new industry.

Every job brings with it different competency sets, some of which may be transferable to the new job you are considering. Working out a narrative around these connected skills is important once you've trained in a new area; a coherent CV should offer a cohesive explanation of your vocational development, even if you've jumped careers.

"[Even before upskilling] consider how the process sits and complements your existing competency sets," says Cody. "Ask yourself how you are going to communicate those in your covering letters and CVs."

Your progression needs to be clearly articulated so employers are convinced of your motivation.

"You really need to ask yourself 'what does this upskilling add to my brand," explains Cody. "There may not seem like much rhyme or reason to your career if viewed from the outside, so you need to work out your transferable skills and articulate how your career ended up where it has."

Cody says that in the past the New Zealand employment market has valued degrees over experience when it comes to hiring, and those seeking to move into a new vocational sector were required to seek formal training to gain the work they desired.

The advances of technology have changed this, however, especially when it comes to fields such as information technology.

"I've spoken with people who teach IT and they say that the programmes they teach sometimes become outdated while they are in the process of teaching them," says Cody.

"Experience and aptitude is becoming just as important as training, especially when it comes to the tech industries."

This being the case, it's useful to fully explore the possibilities of any new vocation before investing too heavily in training.

"There may be other ways into an industry that you haven't considered. That's why it's so important to investigate the industry you are interested in thoroughly before making a huge financial commitment to it."