Maintaining and Refreshing Essential Skills

What Are Essential Skills?

In employment, essential skills are defined as the knowledge and abilities you must have in order to perform your job well. The exact skills you may need will vary widely depending on your type of employment. However, there are certain basic skills that are necessary to the performance of most jobs in the modern workplace. These include reading, writing, the ability to work with numbers, and basic computer use. Interpersonal skills are also increasingly important in the workplace. These include communication and problem-solving skills and the ability to work with others. Although we may think of these activities as personality traits, they are in fact skills that can be learned and improved. Even punctuality, patience, and responsibility are important learnable job skills.

Your job may require a specific set of skills. These may include the ability to use certain tools, expertise in sales, or the ability to read and use documents such as graphs, charts, and blueprints. Some jobs may require you to be skilled at public speaking, managing other employees, or enforcing company rules. If you work as a caregiver, you may need to be skilled in administering medication and communicating with people with disabilities. Cashiers need skills in handling money and working with the public. Store managers can do a better job if they are skilled in motivating their workers and tracking the store's income and expenses.

What Does It Mean to Maintain and Refresh Skills?

Maintaining and Refreshing Essential Skills

in your field.

Maintaining and Refreshing Essential Skills

Regulations: Rules that are enforced by a regulatory agency formed to carry out a piece of legislation.

Refresher courses are used to help workers relearn and update skills that have been out of use. In the previous example of the forklift, if you have not maintained regular use of the machine, you may find that you have to take a training program to refresh your skills. Refresher classes are especially useful for those who have been out of work for long periods. A nurse who takes time away from the job to raise her children may find a refresher course necessary when she chooses to go back to work.

Why Do I Need to Refresh My Skills?

Maintaining and Refreshing Essential Skills

Constant maintenance and refreshment of job skills has become increasingly important in the competitive atmosphere of the modern job market. Keeping your skills honed and up to date will improve your ability to perform your job well and increase your value to your employer. If you are seeking a new job, evidence that you have worked to keep your skills current will demonstrate your commitment and enthusiasm to prospective employers. In practical terms, skill maintenance will make it easier to do your job, stay on top of new developments in your field, and advance in your career.

As modern business practices evolve at a faster and faster rate, workers may find it hard to keep up with new policies and technology. Rapid advances in computer technology can be especially difficult to navigate. Because workers are frequently expected to use new equipment and programs with only minimal training, continuing education in computer skills can help older workers and others who feel “left behind” by system changes. Even though they may be practiced daily, interpersonal skills can also benefit from intentional maintenance. Many work situations call for an increasing amount of communication and teamwork. The skills required to work well together are sometimes overlooked or dismissed as “common

During the course of your career, it is essential to maintain core skills and incorporate new skills that will grow and develop over time.

During the course of your career, it is essential to maintain core skills and incorporate new skills that will grow and develop over time. ©ISTOCK.COM/PAULMALYUGIN.

Continuing Education Units

Depending on your profession, you may be required to provide proof that you are continuing your education. Continuing education units (CEUs) are a means of measuring that education. Certified education programs provide CEUs to professionals who engage in professional development programs supervised by a qualified instructor. They are similar to the credits issued by colleges and universities but do not carry academic weight.

Each CEU represents 10 contact hours of relevant coursework or professional development. CEUs may be awarded for attending classes but also for participating in approved seminars, practicums, and conferences. In some cases professionals may be able to earn CEUs by completing self-studies, as long as the work is supervised by a qualified instructor.

CEUs are monitored by the International Association for Continuing Education & Training (IACET). The IACET develops standards for continuing education, works with training programs to make sure that they adhere to these standards, and provides and monitors the accreditation of educational programs that award CEUs.

Members of many professions are required to earn a set number of CEUs each year in order to maintain their professional licenses. Professionals such as doctors and nurses, teachers, lawyers, accountants, and librarians are all generally required to earn CEUs.

sense.” However, programs are available to teach these interpersonal skills, and even longtime workers and managers can benefit from reexamining and updating their communication and cooperation skills.

How Do I Know When It's Time for a Refresher Course?

Maintaining and Refreshing Essential Skills

If you are already working, it can sometimes be difficult to recognize the need to renew and update skills. In order to do a job well, it is important to continually examine the skill set the job requires and evaluate your competency in each area. Although it is easy to get caught up in the day-to-day concerns of work, try to find time, perhaps once a month, to monitor your successes and failures. Assess whether errors could have been prevented or accomplishments made even more successful if you had additional training in that area. Note moments when you feel confused by terminology or have a hard time grasping concepts, and consider studying outside of work to update your knowledge.

Where Can I Go to Refresh My Job Skills?

Your workplace may offer opportunities such as classes, seminars, and peer support groups to help you assess and expand your skills. If not, there are several different routes you can take toward improving and maximizing work skills. Which one you choose will depend on your personality type and your preferred method of learning.

One approach is to work with a mentor. A mentor is an experienced worker at your job or in your field who can help you gain the knowledge you need or advise you about which skills need to be learned or refreshed. A mentor relationship can be brief and directed toward learning one particular skill, or it can provide you with ongoing career support. While the person receiving help from a mentor (often called a mentee) benefits from the experienced worker's knowledge and experience, the mentor also receives benefits such as respect, appreciation, and the opportunity to learn teaching skills. Because workplace mentor relationships offer a number of advantages at very little cost, some employers encourage mentorships among their employees. If your company does not have one, you may want to suggest establishing a mentorship program.

If you are self-motivated, reading trade newsletters, journals, and websites can inform you about developments in your area of business and point you toward sources of continuing education. Professional organizations sometimes offer workshops for those who want to learn about new techniques or developments in their field.

Can I Get Help Paying for My Continuing Education?

If you are employed, your first step should be to approach your employer to see what kind of support is available to help you maintain and refresh your skills. In competitive fields, some employers may offer training programs in order to attract motivated workers and also as an investment in the ongoing excellence of their work. Some trucking companies, for example, offer free refresher courses for updating a commercial driver's license. Other employers may pay all or part of fees for classes that update job-related skills. If your employer does not do this, you can possibly introduce the idea by pointing out that low employee skill levels can result in expensive errors and reduced efficiency. In contrast, continuously updated skills are associated with higher productivity and improved employee performance.

Maintaining and Refreshing Essential Skills

If you are unemployed, your state may offer skill-enhancing programs at little or no charge. The U.S. Department of Labor has established a network of One-Stop Career Centers that offer career advice and training resources for workers in transition. Some schools, colleges, and professional associations also offer discounted rates, scholarships, or grants for unemployed workers. Check with your local institutions to see what benefits may be available. Labor unions may also have funds available for members who need retraining or skill refreshment. Even if no direct financial support is available, your labor union may be able to direct you to affordable classes and training programs.

What Is Continuing Professional Development?

Maintaining and Refreshing Essential Skills

Even if your job does not require CPD, you may find it useful to compile a CPD portfolio to document the work you do to maintain, refresh, and expand your job skills. A CPD portfolio is a record of all your skills and training. This includes formal training programs and classes you might have attended as well as any skills and knowledge you have gained from your experiences on the job. A CPD portfolio is a constantly evolving document of what you are learning as a worker. Such a document can be extremely valuable in tracking your personal career development and judging when you need to consider updating your skills. It can also prove very useful when you are seeking a promotion or a new job. It will give the employer a clear idea of your professional abilities and progress while also demonstrating that you are proactive and career-minded.