Nowadays, merely having a qualification isn’t enough in the job market. To land that dream job, it’s vital that you have specific skills, especially soft skills, for example, being able to communicate well or to work in a team.
Generally speaking, you don’t acquire these skills at university, but you do acquire them in daily working life. But how? Let’s take a look at some useful methods, tips, and examples.
What are skills?
Before we dive into the ‘how to’ of acquiring and mastering new skills, it’s worth taking a moment to define exactly what a skill is.
Skill – an ability to perform a specific task or activity to a high level of proficiency
It’s possible to acquire and hone skills to perfection (or near‑perfection) through practice and dedication. Learning and mastering a skill involves far more than just a theoretical understanding of facts or concepts.
Although the terms ‘skill’ and ‘competence’ are often used interchangeably, there is actually a difference. The main difference is that a competence is far broader than a skill. A competence consists of knowledge and skills in combination with associated behavior patterns. In effect, a skill is the practical part of a broader competence.
Tip: You can learn more about the differences between skills and competences in our article Skills & competences – but what’s the difference?
Why we should constantly be mastering new skills
Continuous learning, growth, and development are not only innate to us as human beings but practically speaking also constitute an intelligent and sensible life plan. In short, there are countless reasons why it’s worth your while to constantly acquire, master, and hone your skills.
We’ve listed some of the main reasons below:
- Disciplines, professions, and technologies are changing at breakneck speed in our modern-day information society. Snooze, you lose! Continuous learning increases the number of opportunities available to you on the job market and ensures your qualifications and skills remain aligned with constantly changing needs and requirements.
- You can compare your brain to your body’s muscles – training it keeps your brain in tiptop shape and allows you to acquire and master new skills more quickly and effectively. Acquiring new skills and knowledge on an ongoing basis also boosts your brainpower.
- Mastering a broad spectrum of skills also makes you more flexible. Benefits include being able to shift focus more quickly and to take advantage of unanticipated situations – a quality that is particularly useful in our technologically complex society.
- Honing skills also increases your chances of success. The famous physicist Albert Einstein (1879–1955) didn’t consider himself a born genius. He maintained that his discoveries and scientific breakthroughs were principally the result of inquisitiveness, “I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.”
5 methods & benefits
Acquiring and mastering skills is, therefore, important from both a personal and professional perspective. But how can you best acquire and master new skills? And what methods are available to help you in practice?
1. On‑the‑job training
On‑the‑job training is a great way to acquire and master new skills without even having to leave the workplace. If you have co-workers with particularly appealing skill sets, ask them how they acquired those skills. Use their tips as a springboard. Alternatively, you could tackle things a little more formally by asking your employer or line manager, whether it would be possible to hire in an expert in a specific field.
2. Training courses & workshops
You could also pick up new skills by taking a traditional training course or workshop. Many universities and high schools offer courses or seminars for people outside their institutions. Workshops are an ideal setting in which to acquire a particular skill, for example, a specific IT skill such as website design, coding, or programming.
And don’t forget to ask your employer whether a training budget is available to cover all or some of the costs. Senior and middle management generally appreciate it when employees proactively seek to expand their skill sets. They’re often willing to invest in training courses and education programs for their staff.
Perhaps your schedule doesn’t allow you to attend traditional training courses or education programs, or there are none available in your area. If so, e-learning is an excellent alternative. All you need is a computer and an internet connection.
E-learning entails that you’re not restricted to a given time or place. You can learn and study when and where it suits you. What’s more, the number of interactive courses and digital teaching materials available has grown rapidly in recent years.
4. Webinars & YouTube
Webinars, podcasts, and YouTube videos are inspirational, easily accessible tools that can help you acquire and master new skills. They’re clear and concise and split into manageable chunks. Webinars are often live or on-demand, whereas podcasts and instructional videos are available at any time.
5. Blogs & books
It’s even possible to do your own research. The internet is full of interesting blogs with countless tips for acquiring and mastering a wide range of skills. Or why not go old school? Visit a library or a reputable bookstore! Books remain a valuable source of information, principally because their content is presented in a clear, concise, structured fashion.
10 tips for acquiring & mastering new skills
It’s worth bearing in mind some of the following tips when looking to acquire and master new skills:
1. Create a schedule with fixed study times
Creating structure for your study plan makes it much quicker and easier to acquire and master new skills.
Choose a time that fits in with your natural daily routine. For example, morning people get the most out of study by starting early. Others only pick up steam later in the day, in which case it’s best to plan study time in the afternoon.
2. Get feedback
To put new skills into practice as effectively as possible, it’s essential to get regular feedback. Good feedback allows you to reflect more deeply, which is vital to the learning process.
Take the time every day to reflect on the progress you’re making. What went well? What do you want to improve on next time? Self-reflection strengthens your personal growth and allows you to monitor your progress.
3. Start with core skills
If you have little prior knowledge about a new skill you’re about to learn, it can all seem a bit daunting.
Most skills consist of core skills (core competences) and secondary skills. But what’s the difference? The core skills are essential to learning a new skill, whereas secondary skills are useful, but not essential to mastering this skill.
For example, to become a writer, mastery of a language is a core skill, whereas marketing is a secondary skill. We recommend starting with the core skills.
4. Take things step by step
Acquiring and mastering a new skill is often a long and complex process. That’s why it’s worth your while splitting it into a series of smaller steps. Setting milestones like this also helps you monitor the progress you’re making.
5. Learn from other people’s experience
The key to humankind’s success has been its ability to build and improve on other people’s inventions and experiences. This applies equally to acquiring and mastering new skills. Who do you know with the relevant experience and the skills you’re looking to acquire? Do they have any tips for you? And what pitfalls should you be on the lookout for?
6. Learn from experts
Study the experts in your relevant field. Who are the authorities? Why are they so good and what makes them authorities in their subject area? Capitalize on this and use their tricks, tips, experience, and knowledge to expand your skill set.
7. Find a mentor
Perhaps there’s a senior employee in your organization who could mentor you towards mastery of a specific skill. Ask them whether they’d be prepared to fulfill this role. Most people are more than willing to help and will gladly share their knowledge with others.
8. Set realistic goals
Set tangible and realistic goals for yourself. Don’t make them too big or insurmountable. This often has a demotivating effect or stops you in your tracks before you even start! Acquiring and mastering new skills involves setting realistic, positive, and challenging goals that inspire you each and every day.
9. Take action
A skill is more than just theoretical knowledge. Although theory may form the basis, acquiring and mastering new skills ultimately involves putting theory into practice. Learning by doing is vital to mastering or honing your skills.
10. Know thyself
Last, but by no means least, a modicum of self-insight can help enormously. What are your strengths and weaknesses? What qualities, talents, and character traits do you have to help you learn a specific skill? Asking yourself these questions generates the insight required to learn more effectively.
As you’ve read, there are many ways and best practices for acquiring and mastering a new skill or honing existing skills. It’s important to know which skills and competences exist within your organization. Armed with this information, it’s much easier to put together the best possible project teams or to find the best replacements when one of your key staff members is off sick.
Skills matrices are perfect tools for recording and keeping track of this information. Of course, you could use a spreadsheet such as MS Excel, but these often create numerous pitfalls in terms of complexity, version management conflicts, and errors.
AG5’s software solves many of the problems associated with spreadsheets. It provides immediate clarity about your staff’s current skills, competences, and qualifications. It allows you to:
- enter proficiency updates and training results directly from the work floor
- put together project teams explicitly based on the expertise and experience required for the task at hand
- set up notifications for individual staff members, groups, or any certification about to lapse or expire
- identify the most qualified replacements for staff members off sick or away on vacation
- assign the most qualified personnel to skilled tasks such as retooling a production line
- replicate organizational structures and the relationships between staff members and qualifications
If you’re looking to manage your organization’s skill sets more effectively, please get in touch with us or schedule a personal demo and dive into the world of AG5!