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How upskilling can make the return to work easier

Updating your knowledge and skills to what an employer needs now and in the near future is the only way to overcome the perceived shortcoming of a break in career

Like Richa Agarwal (above), Sudheer Dhawan (below) too believes one needs to keep investing in learning new, relevant skills even without taking a break.
Like Richa Agarwal (above), Sudheer Dhawan (below) too believes one needs to keep investing in learning new, relevant skills even without taking a break.

When Chennai-based engineer Suchithra Ravi was ready to rejoin the workforce after a year and a half of maternity leave, she found her skills had become outdated. She applied for several jobs but nothing worked. Reason: A career gap and lack of exposure to new technologies in her field. “I felt I had zero connect with emerging technologies and had lost my opportunity to get back into my field. No one was even ready to give me a telephonic interview," says Ravi.

While waiting for a job opportunity, Ravi decided to improve her skills with an industry-relevant course. She chose business analytics, an emerging field, on an online education platform, Great Learning. “I gave it my best, gained the confidence that I had lost, and prepared for a new career in analytics," she says. Within a few months, Ravi landed a job as a data analyst.

Change is here

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is disrupting almost every industry, resulting in increased demand for new skills. By 2022, about 54% of all employees across the world would need significant re- and upskilling, says the Future of Jobs Report 2018 released by the World Economic Forum (WEF) in 2018.

In such a scenario, where jobs roles are fast becoming redundant and white-collar jobs require cognitive skills and competencies, upskilling has become a necessity, especially if you have taken a career break, says Sourav Mukherji, professor (organizational behaviour), at Indian Institute of Management-Bangalore.

Sudheer Dhawan
Sudheer Dhawan

“Often employers may think the break would have made the person lose touch with competencies and even unaccustomed to leading high pressure corporate roles," he explains.

The only way to overcome the perceived shortcoming of a break is by updating your skill set to suit what the employer needs now and in the recent future. “This convinces your prospective employer that the break has been put to good use and you come back with better skills, a new competency and something that others in your industry didn’t have time to gain," says Mukherji.

Ravi’s batchmate Richa Agarwal, 33, didn’t quit her job when she took a maternity break. She, however, missed out on the learning her team gained while she was on leave. “My team was introduced to machine learning, and when I joined back six months later, I couldn’t keep pace with them," says Agarwal. The flexible weekendcourse on Great Learning helped brush up her skills. “You need to invest in learning new and relevant skills even without taking a break," she says.

Industry-relevant courses are essential now, especially for people aiming at resuming their careers after breaks, says Mayank Kumar, co-founder and managing director, upGrad, an online education platform that offers skill-based courses.

Kumar has seen several examples of students taking courses on the upGradplatform, especially women, to create an improved résumé and make it harder for prospective employers to turn them down. “The convenience and affordability offered by online platforms make career shifts and a second inning easier than before," he says. Great Learning’s upskilling programmes range from 25,000 to 4 lakh, while Edureka’s courses are from 18,000 to 2,47,500. The duration is from six to 18 months.

Pivot to a new career

In a dynamic work environment with advancement in technology and disruptions of business models, upskilling is important for everyone, even if they haven’t taken a sabbatical.

When Hyderabad’s Sudheer Dhawan found himself stuck last year in manual testing, a technology that offered fewer jobs and witnessed slow growth, he took a sabbatical to change the direction of his career. He took up an online course on robotic process automation (RPA), a new tool used in automation technology industry, with online learning startup Edureka.

“Even though I had experience in other tools, I was new to RPA and this course helped me grow," says Dhawan. Though now he’s working for a leading IT company, he knows he will have to keep learning new skills and tools all through his life, considering how dynamic the technology sector is.

Veena Jadhav, assistant professor (human resources management) SP Jain School of Global Management, Singapore, says, “Professionals today need to invest in upskilling, as a relevant course ensures that you address the gaps in your knowledge or skill, especially after a career break and leverage it to grow in your career."

Tempt prospective companies

Often employees, especially women, end up compromising on their job roles or salary package when returning to work, points out Hari Krishnan Nair, co-founder of Great Learning. “Instead, upskilling can help you grow more in your job or find a new relevant career for yourself."

After taking a six-year break in 2012, Bengaluru-based Prasathy Sanal, also an engineer, realized she needed to offer something more to land a better job. So, she enrolled for a post-graduate diploma course in data science at upGrad. “I studied whenever my three-year-old son was at the playschool," she recalls. Armed with a degree in a new skill, within a few months she found a job as a data scientist at Tech Mahindra. “You need to focus on growing and moving ahead in your career. If you have the right skill sets, you will get through, even with a gap period," she says.

According to the 2018 WEF report, 21% of existing jobs will become redundant, while 27% more job roles will be created by 2022. This means 48% jobs will require new skills, creating an ideal opportunity for people who have taken a break.

In today’s competitive business environment, where the lifetime value of technical skills is the shortest it has ever been, upskilling before restarting careers gives a person a unique advantage and allows them to stand out from the crowd, says Vineet Chaturvedi, co-founder of Edureka.

“Professionals today will need to upskill with new skills 15-20 times in their career to create a long term career path, so if you have taken a break, might as well restart your career with new-age skills that will help you stay relevant for the next 5-10 years," he says.

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