Acquiring Necessary Skills

Learning Outcome

  • Explain how to acquire necessary skills, both in and out of class, for your career goals

“Lifelong learning” is useful phrase to know in the twenty-first century because we are awash in new technologies that enable to grow personally and professionally. Those who know how to learn are in the best position to keep up and take advantage of changes in the workplace. Think of all the information resources around you right now as a student. For example, there are libraries, the Internet, videos, games, books, and films—the list goes on.

With these resources at your disposal, how can you best position yourself for lifelong learning and a strong, viable career? Which hard and soft skills are most important? What are employers really looking for?

The following list was inspired by the remarks of Mark Atwood, director of open-source engagement at Hewlett-Packard Enterprise contains excellent practical advice.

  • Learn how to write clearly. After you’ve written something, have people edit it. Then rewrite it, taking into account the feedback you received. Aim to improve your writing with every revision.
  • Learn how to speak. Speak clearly on the phone, online, and in person.
  • Be reachable. Publish your email address on your résumé, website, and/or social media profiles so that people know how to contact you.
  • Learn about computers. Even if you are not gearing up for a career in information technology, learn something entirely new every six to twelve months. This doesn’t have to be expensive, there are free and low-cost resources online.
  • Build relationships within your community. Use tools like and search for clubs at local schools, libraries, and community centers. Then seek out relevant, interesting people around the country and world. Learn about them and their projects first by searching the Internet. The more you sound well-informed, curious, intelligent, and polite, the more likely you are to get a positive response.
  • Attend conferences and events. This is a great way to network with people and meet them face-to-face or virtually.
  • Find a project and make your mark. This can include anything from editing a Wikipedia page, to answering questions on a discussion forum on a topic you are knowledgeable about personally or professionally. You may also volunteer in person for a project related to your career.
  • Collaborate with people locally, regionally, nationally and all over the world as time permits.
  • Keep your LinkedIn profile and social media profiles up-to-date. Be findable.
  • Keep learning. Skills will often beat smarts. Be sure to schedule time for learning and having fun!

Practice Question

Have a Formal Learning Plan

Schools, organizations, and employers offer a wide variety of ways to learn or enhance soft and hard skills. You are in a class now, for instance, so this demonstrates your specific intent toward improving skills in a formal fashion. There are other formal ways to acquire skills:

  • Enroll in a credit or non-credit class
    • Many know about four-year colleges with bachelors degrees and sometimes high costs, but there are also two-year colleges with associates degrees and lower costs.Most degree programs provide hard skills and some training in the soft skills.What many miss out on are the Continuing Education programs offered at colleges or community colleges. These are frequently very affordable and allow you to focus on an entry-level skill in a specific area.
  • Find an apprenticeship
    • Apprenticeships can range from highly structured to relatively loosely structured. The employer may bring someone in from the outside or work with internal employees to blend coursework with on-the-job training. Often these programs end in full-time employment or advancement. Apprenticeships directly impact hard skills and some training in the soft skills.
  • Apply for an internship
    • Internships are shorter-term working relationships frequently offered in conjunction with credit from a college. While internships may be paid or unpaid, they focus on giving the employee new skills.  Some of these arrangements are not well structured, so the employee must reach agreement with the employer about the skills to be earned in exchange for their valuable labor. Internships directly impact hard skills and some training in the soft skills.

After you’ve networked with enough people and built up your reputation, your peers can connect you with job openings that may be a good fit for your skills. You may want to get involved in part-time work, extracurricular activities, and career development in your field.