3 Strategies for Success in a Skills Gap Era

Develop a growth mindset and embrace lifelong learning. Be ready to make a career pivot.

And take a personal passion to the next level.

These are confusing times for American workers, especially those in the early stages of their careers. Automation and globalization are reshaping our jobs, making once-clear career paths murky and uncertain. No one knows exactly what the future holds: which jobs will get replaced by robots or outsourced, what skills will be required for the jobs that remain, or where those jobs will be located geographically, and so on.

This is stressful! We saw evidence of this when we surveyed full-time U.S. employees for Udemy’s 2017 Skills Gap Report. Nearly 80 percent of respondents believe there’s a skills gap, yet only a little more than a third say it affects them personally. The prevailing attitude we found is one of self-confidence tempered by external forces out of their control.

Consider this: While companies struggle to fill a record number of U.S. job openings, a whopping 78 percent of employees in our survey say they possess above-average skills, 64 percent say their education fully prepared them for their jobs, and 74 percent of Millennials believe they know everything they need to know to do their jobs. Yet employers continue to claim recent grads are lacking critical skills.

This disconnect—along with an unequal recovery from the Great Recession, rapid technological change, and the forces of globalization—has led workers to lower their career expectations and feel like they don’t have the same opportunities previous generations did. Younger workers are starting to realize a college degree won’t carry them as far as it used to.

It’s easy to feel helpless in this climate, but there are steps people can take to shore up their skill sets and be better prepared for the changes ahead.

Never Stop Learning
A growth mindset could be your No. 1 asset in this fluid environment. When you embrace lifelong learning, assimilating new skills isn’t a source of fear and stress—it’s just another part of your career journey. Separating process from outcome will make you a better learner, too, as you get less hung up on immediate mastery of a skill and more appreciative of how moving outside your comfort zone helps you grow as a person.

Tech workers long have been accustomed to continuous upskilling as programming languages evolve and new software versions launch, but that cycle is accelerating. Staying current in a particular language or framework isn’t enough for techies, and a narrow focus won’t be enough for workers in other disciplines either.

When I advocate lifelong learning, I suggest you get curious and stretch in different directions. Gaining competency in skills outside your core responsibilities is great insurance for your future employability, and it also conditions your brain to be ready when a new task is assigned and you have to get up to speed on an unfamiliar skill.

Be Ready to Pivot
If you’re fortunate enough to be in a job you enjoy at a company you love, it’s easy to settle in and not think about what comes next. No matter how comfortable you are today, however, it’s smart to have your affairs in order so you’re not scrambling when something unexpected happens. And a lot can happen that may not be on your personal radar. Maybe you’ll get a new manager who has different expectations for your job function. Or maybe your manager will leave the company, and if you can prove you’re up to the task, you’ll get promoted to her old job.

At the risk of repeating myself, being a lifelong learner is the best defense against sudden changes in your career, but there are other things you can do. First, make sure your materials are up to date: your resume, your Website or portfolio, and your online profiles. This is where you can signal how you’ve been keeping your skills polished, so go ahead and list those online courses, bootcamps, workshops, and other ways you’re proactively building your expertise.

Second, keep your professional network active. Too many of us only reach out to our contacts in a time of need, but these connections require maintenance just like a plant needs sun and water. Invite your contacts out to lunch or send them an occasional note to ask how their work is going; maybe there’s something you can do to help them before you ever think of asking them to help you. By building a mutually supportive relationship, you won’t come across as opportunistic and self-serving when you really do need a favor.

Pursue a Passion
Another great way to hone your skills, old and new, is to apply them to something real. So, launch that blog, open that Etsy store, or sell that mobile gaming app. If your skills or hobbies don’t lend themselves to commerce, you can still elevate them so others can see and appreciate what you’re up to. For example, plenty of nonprofits need volunteers to work on their Websites, organize events, or develop marketing materials.

In addition to demonstrating what you can do, having a side hustle or passion project shows you’re a motivated person who can bring a variety of experiences and interests to your full-time gig, too. It’s a great showcase for your soft skills, as you signal your ability to initiate and follow through on projects, pitch your ideas, collaborate with others, and take ownership. Sure, if you can make money at it, that’s a bonus, but your side hustle will pay off when potential employers recognize your skills and abilities in the real world, not just on a resume.

There’s a quote attributed to various people, but regardless of who actually said it, I believe it applies here: The best way to predict your future is to create it. You can do that by developing a growth mindset and embracing lifelong learning, by being ready to make a career pivot, and by taking a personal passion to the next level.

This article originally appeared in Training Magazine.