There are many ways to learn and build an expertise with skills in your skill set; this is what I call the building stage in a skills based approach. In the survey, Skills Based Approach, I posed a question regarding the effectiveness of learning a skill with various methods: taking a class; joining an organization; volunteering; reading a book; and taking on a project at work. My objective is to understand the best ways to learn a skill, so a professional can properly plan, learn, and build an expertise with a desired skill set.
Taking on a project at work is by far the best way to build a skill according to the survey; in fact, only one respondent reported it ineffective and 87.18% reported it as “very effective”. This has two implications. First, if you are currently looking for employment, you should consider seeking a job that can build your desired skills and perhaps your only objective is to learn skills so the job is a “stepping stone” to a more long term job in the future. Second, if you are already employed, you may want to be assertive and take a role on a project that can help you build your desired skills; talk to your supervisors and tell them why you want to make a presentation or be the lead developer on a project, for example.
The effectiveness of taking a class and volunteering also elicited a strong favorable response; only a few respondents thought taking a class or volunteering were ineffective (1.71% and 5.08% respectively). An advantage with these methods is that they can often be addressed with few prerequisites; you do not have to get hired for a job or be accepted to take on a project. Although the disadvantages are both require a commitment of time outside of your paying job, and you usually have to pay for classes.
Most of the respondents thought joining an organization or reading a book are “somewhat effective”. Personally, I can think of many times where I have used a book to learn a new skill – especially learning a new programming language or technology. I also think about the famous series of books, “… For Dummies”, which has become a staple for learning a skill with no prior experience.
Thankfully some of the respondents pointed out that I missed a very important way to build an expertise with a skill: finding a mentor. And, drawing from my own experiences, this is a very powerful way to learn skills. I had an excellent mentor in my second job, and the things I learned from him have had a lasting impact throughout my career. I strongly suggest seeking out a mentor to help build your skill set.