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Empowering Your Career: The Self-Taught Path to Mastering New Tools and Technologies

06/19/2024 9:40 AM | Anonymous

Author: Jackie Martin Kowal, PDRI by Pearson

In today's dynamic professional landscape, keeping up (much less staying ahead) often means mastering new tools and technologies. I/O psychologists on the job market are familiar with the impact of listing expertise with new tools and technologies on their resumes. Research from the World Economic Forum suggests that by 2025, over half of all employees will require significant reskilling or upskilling due to technological advancements and industry changes. It is imperative that I/Os take the initiative to learn novel tools and technologies to stay competitive in today’s workforce. 

However, there are several barriers to keeping up with learning novel tools and technologies. In particular, if there is not clear structure or support for learning new tools and technologies through formal education or on the job, mastering the new tool or technology would require learning independently. This involves dedicating time (and sometimes money) outside other commitments. Furthermore, for popular tools and technologies, the overwhelming amount of information available can be daunting, especially in those fields outside of traditional I/O topics.

This article will explore the art of self-learning by providing a roadmap for mastering new tools and technology. I will provide personal experience and examples related to mastering Tableau, a tool for which I am self-taught. The strategies outlined here can be applied to learning any new tool or technology (e.g., RMarkdown, ChatGPT) or, more broadly, any new skill you are interested in (e.g., machine learning techniques).

Find Free Resources

For most tools, it will be easy to find free resources and the tougher part will be deciding how to narrow down the available resources into something manageable. My recommendation in this case is to focus on resources that are applied specifically to I/O psychology or Human Resources/Talent Management, since these will be the most relevant to your work. For Tableau, I googled “Tableau I-O Psychology”, which led me to Richard Landers’ training available on SIOP’s website. 

Additionally (or if I-O or HR specific training does not yet exist), I recommend checking out resources available from the tool itself. Tableau has many free training videos available. You may also consider self-paced online learning tools like Coursera, DataCamp, or LinkedIn Learning. Sometimes these tools offer discounts or free trials that you can leverage.

It can be challenging to find the most relevant and high quality training materials. To address this, I adopted a trial-and-error approach, dedicating initial time to sample a variety of resources before committing to one. This allowed me to gauge the relevance, comprehensiveness, and effectiveness of each resource in addressing my learning objectives. I paid close attention to the clarity of instruction, relevance of examples to real-world scenarios, and the depth of coverage on essential topics before choosing the best training resources to pursue.

Identify Resources Available Through Your Employer

Check with your workplace about available resources for learning the tool you’re interested in. Does your employer already have licenses available for the software? Is there training through work available? Can your supervisor provide dedicated professional development time for you to use work time to learn?

When I was learning Tableau, my workplace was able to provide me a Tableau license and an allotment of professional development hours. Additionally, their license to Tableau included Tableau training courses that I could take. It is important to advocate for yourself in this space. Most companies recognize the importance of providing opportunities for professional development for both job performance and employee retention. You may also consider enlisting the support of coworkers who are also interested in picking up these skills. A stronger argument for resources can be made to the company if there is a large group of employees interested in learning that skill.

Make A Plan

Once you've identified the resources you want to use and you’re ready to embark on your self-learning journey, tracking your progress and setting clear goals becomes crucial for maintaining motivation. Here's how you can effectively monitor your advancement and establish achievable goals:

  • Set SMART goals: Ensure that your goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound (SMART). For instance, instead of setting a vague goal like "become proficient in Tableau," aim for a SMART goal such as "create three interactive dashboards in Tableau within the next three months."
  • Use progress trackers: Implement tools or methods to monitor your progress systematically. This could involve using spreadsheets, task management apps (e.g., Microsoft’s To Do, Wunderlist), or specialized learning platforms (e.g., Coursera) that allow you to track completed modules, projects, or skill assessments.
  • Keep running notes: Maintain running notes to document your experiences, insights, and challenges encountered during your self-learning journey. Reflecting on your progress regularly can help you identify areas for improvement. This will also be useful for you to reference to keep track of resources and remind yourself of key skills later on.
  • Celebrate milestones: Acknowledge and celebrate each milestone you achieve along the way. Whether it's completing a challenging project, earning a certification, or mastering a new technique, taking time to recognize your accomplishments can fuel your motivation to continue learning.

Apply Your New Skills

Hands-on practice and experimentation are essential to mastering a new tool. Find a dataset or project that interests you that will give you the opportunity to practice your new skills. Below are a few recommendations for how to find such a project. These recommendations are listed in a progression from low stakes to high stakes applications. Working your way up from freely available datasets to a work-related project is recommended.

  • Leverage freely available datasets: There are many sites where you can find freely available datasets. Tableau offers some here and Kaggle is also a great resource for datasets across a broad range of applications and fields.
  • Volunteer your new skills: Ask a friend or family member if you can apply your time and new skills to a project they have or see if there is a way you can leverage your new skills. When I was learning Tableau, I volunteered to help members of SIOP create a membership dashboard  (SIOP login required) for their website. This was great practice using a large dataset that needed a lot of reformatting and cleaning prior to visualization in Tableau. It also provided the opportunity to practice implementing specific user requests. 
  • Find a work-related project: Think through your current work projects and identify one that you could use your new skills on. Make a case to the project manager for that project about how this work could benefit the project. Be sure to consider the additional time required to learn and apply the new skill when building the project plan and timeline. When I was learning Tableau, I was working on a project where we were conducting a comprehensive literature review of military research to identify the top predictors of success in leadership roles. I thought using Tableau to create a visualization to summarize the research would be helpful since we were looking at hundreds of validity coefficients across dozens of constructs. Tableau allowed us to visualize this information in one place and to filter the constructs and articles on demand.

Mastering new tools and technologies independently is not just a professional advantage; it's a necessity in today's rapidly evolving job market. Remember, learning is not a one-time event but a lifelong process, and embracing this mindset can lead to opportunities for growth and development. Though learning new tools and technologies can be daunting, I hope the strategies listed in this blog will help you get started!

Have you learned a new tool recently? Please share your experience and any resources by leaving a comment below!

Author Bio: Jackie Martin Kowal is a Senior Consultant and Team Lead at PDRI by Pearson with experience in talent management and consulting spanning the private sector, government agencies, and military organizations.  Her experience includes work in the areas of job analysis, competency modeling, selection assessment development and validation, performance measurement, program evaluation, training development and evaluation, training needs assessment, and engagement survey development and analysis. Jackie received her Ph.D. in Industrial Organizational Psychology from the University of South Florida.

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