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Upskilling Is Key to Jobs Now and in the Future

by L. Michelle Tullier

With degrees in hand, many college graduates envision that schooling is completely behind them as they launch their next phase of life. That, however, is not how today’s job market works. Those who see themselves as lifelong learners are the most likely to build successful careers through which they achieve personal and financial goals. Upskilling—the process of adding specific proficiencies that employers seek—is a valuable strategy even for students and recent graduates. Here are two case studies:

A recent graduate from a liberal arts college has an interest in fashion and social media. Despite strong writing skills and a portfolio that included contributions to websites and blog posts, this candidate found that potential employers wanted background in specific marketing skills. So, the job applicant took several online classes in digital marketing, content marketing, and search engine optimization. Adding those keywords to her resume helped it spark more attention. In interviews, her addition of the online classes was seen as taking initiative and a commitment to continued growth. This client now works at a job she loves.

A rising senior with a major in history would like to work in the field of accounting. This individual has developed a plan to complete several accounting courses this summer at a community college and through a prestigious university’s online offerings. Accounting is a field with a wide range of opportunities, and this person is particularly interested in forensic accounting to draw heavily on her research and investigative abilities. The skills she will acquire through the summer coursework will qualify her for entry-level jobs. After getting some hands-on work experience, she can then commit to a direction within accounting and decide what other training might best enhance her future career. 

The need for upskilling does not diminish the value of a college degree. Employers strongly desire candidates who have developed their capacity for critical thinking, communicating, research, and problem-solving. This in-depth experience in acquiring, processing, and actualizing information during college—alongside a commitment to personal growth—is the foundation of a lifelong learner. Employers do appreciate the breadth of content knowledge and thought processes represented by higher education. And they want specific skills.  

Upskilling does not inherently mean going to graduate school. Students and recent graduates may find what they need through online learning, community colleges, or professional association workshops. They may be able to acquire some proficiencies in a weekend, while other learning, particularly for certifications, requires a longer time investment.

To identify the skills that will enhance your candidacy for the type of job you want, start by reviewing job postings. For example, a posting might ask for basic understanding of the database management language SQL, even for a non-technical role, but your data experience is limited to Microsoft Excel. If your resume does not cite SQL as a skill, then the applicant tracking software is likely to screen you out, and you won’t make the cut for a human decision-maker to review your resume. This is an opportunity for upskilling and might require nothing more than taking a short online course over the weekend so that you can add “Basic proficiency in SQL” to your resume and submit it Monday morning.

We live in a skills-based market that is constantly changing. Upskilling helps job seekers show employers that they are tuned into the needs of a specific industry and will bring a growth mindset to any organization. Understanding that the act of learning is never really behind you will open the doors to job opportunities now and in the future.


Michelle Tullier, Ph.D., specializes in helping students, recent graduates, and other young professionals discover meaningful career paths and find success in job or internship searches. She has 30 years of experience as a career counselor in college, corporate, and independent settings. She can be reached at