Build Your Skills

Not every company offers employee education — so here’s how to find it on your own

Back Web Only Jan 17, 2018 By Tony Oliver

As annual review season rolls around, managers seize the opportunity to suggest areas of improvement. Unfortunately, training and development expenses are often seen as personal, rather than company (or shared) responsibilities.

While such developments are disappointing, employees should not despair. As the pendulum swings, your investments in personal development skills can make you attractive to future employers. Get a head start and remain ahead of the curve with these pointers:

  • Budget your time wisely. Make the most of your time by avoiding common time management pitfalls, such as a lack of focus, procrastination and taking on too many commitments. Ask yourself what is the skill you want to develop most? We all have lots of interests, but it’s important to select one, and take time each day to think about and prioritize your daily activities to ensure they align with your larger goal.

We all know how easy it is to procrastinate, which can be triggered by fear of getting started or fear of failure. Battle the fear and start your day with a commitment to complete one challenging task aligned with your goal, rather than doing easier ones.

  • Be selective with your time. Spreading yourself too thin prevents you from putting in the time, energy and thought productivity requires, and it can lead to burnout. Consider this video class from Skillshare CEO Michael Karnjanaprakorn on real productivity.

Look for creative investment opportunities. Make a small, initial investment in your personal development and increase your allocation as you develop your skills. For example, in college you don’t take every single class within your concentration in one quarter. You’ll start with one and attain proficiency before you move onto the next class and expand your investment. (Maybe you even drop a few that aren’t a fit!)

Check out books at a library, join a Meetup group or barter services. Consider memberships at co-working spaces, like Hacker Lab, which offer a variety of member-only workshops and events, or Urban Hive, which hosts skilled trades and computer classes at discounted rates for members. If you find you enjoy a topic, seek out more sophisticated courses, but avoid massive upfront investments. My Mandarin Rosetta Stone was an impulse buy I’ve since regretted, as I should’ve started with a free app.

  • Seek efficiencies. Use your breaks and lunch hour during the workweek to build your personal development skills. During lunch, I typically read the Wall Street Journal, Sacramento Business Journal and Harvard Business Review. If the weather is nice and I go for a midday walk, I listen to an informative podcast. My early morning elliptical workout is coupled with entrepreneurial Netflix documentaries, saving fun shows for nighttime watching with my wife. Perhaps your commute can help you learn a new language. Look at your daily activities in a new light to discover ways to simultaneously learn.
  • Window shop. Check out job postings, meet former colleagues and speak with  recruiters to get a sense of what skills are in demand. As a seasoned project manager/business analyst, I dove into change management after seeing an increased need for this skill in the job market. Understandably, learning new skills may take money. Leverage Google to find some cheaper alternatives. For example, Photoshop has over 100 mostly-free clones. And market leaders like (now part of LinkedIn) and Mango Languages are available free of cost for Sacramento Public Library cardholders.

Even if you’ve already broken your 2018 resolutions, you can easily add a few personal development goals by spending as little as an hour a week. Your Pinterest and Facebook feeds can wait.