After the break: Boosting your IT skills

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11th Jun 2014
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How do you brush up on your skills after a career break or after marking time during the recession? Kirstin Donoghue recommends IT training and certification.

Our work lives used to be far simpler than they are today. More often than not, entire careers were spent at one company and a break was nothing more than a fortnight’s leave each summer. These days, gaps between jobs are not that unusual – often imposed by redundancy, but sometimes by illness or family commitments. For the lucky few it could be a sabbatical to pursue a passion such as studying for a second degree or travelling around the world.

Others may feel they’ve had a lull in their careers rather than an actual break. Perhaps they have been working for a firm that has struggled during the recession. They’ve avoided redundancy but have been stuck in a role with few prospects. They feel as though they have been treading water, but that now’s the time to begin swimming again with the tide.

How can a professional in either of these situations kick start their career? One of the main problems of returning to work after a break or emerging from fallow period is that some of the more forward-looking and successful businesses have moved on, especially technology-wise. And, of course, ideally these are the companies that anyone with ambition would like to join.

This is especially the case in areas connected with digital design, for example. Here technology has progressed in leaps and bounds, changing how buildings, products and infrastructures are developed and the planning, supply chains and scheduling around the process. But the upheavals digitisation has created in this world is typical of what is happening in industries across the board.

Tech training

So while, yes, it is important to be aware of the latest ideas in business thinking, management and other developments in any profession; a smart quick win for those who have had a career break is to take an IT training course that also offers certification. Technology is increasingly being put at the heart of many business strategies and the skills and insight gained by such a course will form a firm foundation for a revitalised career. Even those with previous high level of technical skill will find it beneficial to learn about newer versions and the latest processes surrounding them.

When it comes to job applications, just taking the course alone demonstrates motivation and drive. However, the certificate gained on completion is also important. To a prospective employer it will provide reassuring validation of certain levels of competence. In the future, they may want to use this as proof of skills in any tendering process. The certificate will also offer evidence that the holder has knowledge of best practice, can work productively and will help maximise an employer’s investment in the latest technologies.

Some IT training and certification provides a globally-recognised benchmark of skills. This can open up the entire international job market to those who have achieved the qualification.

Authorised trainer

So what else needs to be considered in choosing a course? First, check that instructors are authorised otherwise they won’t necessarily be teaching up-to-date content. The best are those that are not only experts in their subject, but also in the way we learn. Some software providers invest in ways to enhance their trainers’ existing technical expertise with softer skills surrounding learning styles, and continuously monitor instructors to ensure standards are maintained.

Also unofficial trainers may well be planning to boost their fees by charging for added extras and they won’t be able to offer certification. Choosing an authorised trainer is the best business decision in the long run.

It’s advisable to select a course that focuses on weaker areas, giving diagnostic feedback to identify areas where participants can improve their skills. This helps to ensure that the training is targeted to get the best possible return on investment on the course. Also, check that the course includes performance-based testing. With this, rather than simply being asked to answer questions about how they might accomplish an objective, candidates actually perform the task itself using real-life applications. This is by far the more effective way to consolidate learning, particularly for those who have been out of the workplace for a while.

These days, many courses can be supplemented by online learning too. Materials are often free to download – and this helps to stretch any investment even further.

The uptake of training and certification has, so far, increased year on year, so anyone returning to the job market may well be competing with others who have also completed these courses. It would be good to think that employers were far-sighted enough to appreciate personality and potential, but realistically these are no longer enough. There’s nothing like evidence of determination, commitment and competence to boost a CV.

Kirstin Donoghue is the Autodesk Program Manager, EU at Connect – a service from KnowledgePoint.

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