With more Australians choosing to work as contractors, and opportunities for steady work growing, it’s important to ensure you remain an expert in your field. How can you do this? Keep looking for learning experiences, chances to learn new technology and tools, and other ways of keeping industry knowledge current.

With the fast-changing landscape of tools and technologies, it is a challenge to keep up. Also, without access to company training programs which are available to full-time employees, it can become even harder to prioritise learning new skills. However, with your flexibility of schedule, and self-driven attitude, you may find you have even more time to upskill both your hard and soft skills.

First, decide what you need to upskill

To decide what skills you need to work on do some research on upcoming trends and complementary skills in your industry. For example, maybe you want to pick up a course on SEO or UX writing if you’re a freelance writer, HTML coding as a designer, or new scheduling tools as an executive assistant. One way to predict what’s coming up is to follow industry blogs to stay ahead of the curve.

Hone in on what clients require of you. If you start to notice a majority of clients asking for knowledge of a new tool, or a new aspect of your industry, this may be something to research and add to your list of skills and knowledge.

Consider online or in-person courses

Once you’ve decided what you need to upskill, check whether any courses are available to help you out. Courses are usually available online or in-person. If online works better for you, look into online learning platforms that you can take at your own pace. You may find a combination of free and paid courses. Many with the option of a certificate and are provided by accredited people and organisations but do your due diligence to ensure they are reputable.

If you prefer to take a course in person, start by researching established learning centres or continuing education centres. Many Australian universities now offer short-courses for certain skills and knowledge. Other in-person options include courses at community centres, or short-course that are open to the public but conducted at uni or college campuses.

Factors to consider when looking at a course

Schedule and budget

Depending on your budget, you have a choice between short courses that require a one-time payment or courses held over an extended period of time which charge monthly course fees.

It’s vital important to check whether a course is self-paced or if you’ll be held to a pre-set schedule of deadlines. For example, you may not receive credit for the course if you don’t keep up and finish assignments on time. This can be tough if you’re working full-time hours and have other time constraints.

Format

Scrutinise the course syllabus and think about the format you prefer. Highly structured courses dictated by the course provider ensures you’ll work on a specific set of skills. A looser approach lets you enrol in a combination of courses and take lectures in any order. Self-paced courses give you all the content upfront, allowing you to jump in at any point.

Practicality

With limited time and budget, set clear objectives on what you hope to achieve out of the courses. There’s a difference between academic learning to broaden your mind and skill-based courses that teach you specific skills. Ask yourself what it is you want to have gained by the end of the course in order to decide the best one for you.

Other ways to upskill

Aside from a formal course, here are some other, less structured ways to develop your abilities.

Find a mentor

Reach out to experts on LinkedIn, experienced professionals or perhaps a former work contact, and learn from someone who is already where you want to be. Speak to them about their experience, how they got to where they are and what they learned along the way. You will gain plenty of professional insights talking to someone who is already an expert in their field. It’s a great way to ask them if they think you need to take up professional courses to boost your skills and potentially get you further, faster.

Network

Talk to people both inside and outside your industry, so you can broaden your mindset and circle of connections. Networking also helps you to get other perspectives on what skills are essential in your industry, and what might become essential in the next few years. It will also help you to develop your interpersonal skills.

Sign up for webinars, podcasts and live events

A Google search will bring up pages of webinars and resources, all available to you online. While quality can vary, many of these free online events offer valuable information within short-easy to digest sessions. Webinars can be very time-effective as they are usually recorded and offered as a link for you to view again or later on. More and more people are also listening to podcasts to and from work.

Some live events and talks are free, and you’ll get the benefit of learning new things as well as meeting new people. This is also a great way of learning from experts and building your own know-how without committing to a huge investment.

RELATED: Your definitive guide to contracting: the good, the bad, and the reality

Embrace learning on the job

While you’ll be busy in each gig working on what you’re hired to do, pay attention to gain off-hand knowledge about other functions and other departments. Simply observing and asking questions about processes and procedures gives you new learnings that can be applied to future work.

Keep learning

Being a contractor means you often need to sell your experience and showcase your value to employers in order to stand out. Therefore, it’s vital to be open to learning new things and to constantly seek out new knowledge and skills to add to your CV. After all, that’s one of the advantages of being a contractor – the constant ability to learn new things, and apply them to your next big role.

RELATED: What are the benefits of contracting?

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