How to Add New Job Skills Without Going Back to School

E-learning is a cost-effective, accessible way to boost your job skills without the hassles of 'traditional' degree programs.

If you want to keep your technical and business skills razor-sharp, education and ongoing training and development are critical, but continuing education doesn't mean you have to go back to school.

Over the last few years, e-learning and online skills development technology have broadened their appeal, sharpened their focus and become accessible to almost anyone with a laptop, smartphone or tablet.

"We've seen phenomenal growth over the last four years or so from the market and from our corporate clients, too," says Nate Kimmons, vice president of Enterprise Marketing at e-learning service provider Lynda.com.

E-learning Bridges the IT Talent Gap

As the talent shortage intensifies in the IT industry, businesses are looking for cost-effective, proven methods to add important skills to their workforce without hiring additional staff.

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"E-learning has exploded, and we are seeing more companies investing in corporate development and skills training for their existing workforce," Kimmons says.

Adoption and buy-in for online and e-learning systems are often driven into the enterprises by employees themselves, says Kimmons. Enterprises, in general, are slow to adopt new technologies and even slower to offer standardized solutions to keep their workforce up-to-speed because of the high cost of traditional training and the associated productivity loss when employees must attend training sessions, he says.

That's absolutely understandable, Kimmons adds, but with e-learning solutions, any employee with a laptop, mobile device or smartphone can easily access and complete training and skills courses in a way that's cost-efficient and accessible anytime, anywhere.

BYOE -- Bring-Your-Own Education

"Just think of how much money corporations spend to send teams to off-sites -- meetings and trainings," Kimmons says. "Not only are you paying for plane tickets, hotels, food, expenses like that, you can't be sure that everyone's leaving with the same level of knowledge," he says.

"Each person's learning paths are different, and everyone's got a different baseline, too, so one of the great things about e-learning is the ability to incorporate various learning styles and each person can jump in based on their current level of knowledge," Kimmons says.

"From the worker's side, this often starts as a BYO scenario, where the employee is looking for professional development to either improve skills they already have or add skills to help them land another job or a promotion," he says.

But once the content is introduced, Kimmons says, employees often use the system to learn skills and take courses that are relevant to their personal interests, too, he says, and with a library of about 2,000 courses spanning 10 categories, both business-related and personal, there's something for almost everyone, he says.

Education as a Benefit and a Retention Tool

Kimmons says enterprises that offer e-learning opportunities as part of their overall benefits package are finding it to be a valuable retention tool. Because the scope of e-learning is so vast, he says, employees learn not only technical, engineering and hard skills, but also soft skills that can translate to better leadership, better management and a more engaged and loyal workforce.

"When we survey corporations, we see that employees are clamoring for more training and education resources," Kimmons says. "If those are offered, but employees aren't using that benefit, one reason might be that it's not accessible or it's too far removed from their daily work life. With e-learning, it's quick, easy, and accessible, and we're trying to get our clients to evangelize that as a way to bring needed skills into their business."

As a retention tool, training and education benefits both employers and their workforce. For employers, building on their existing talent pool with new technical and soft skills can help their business and -- to an extent -- eliminate the need to hire additional resources. And from an employee perspective, gaining new skills they can apply in their current job, or gaining new skills like project management, negotiation, leadership and others can be a path to a promotion or to landing a new position after a period of unemployment.

"E-learning can help employers close the skills gap they're experiencing," says David Glaubke, director of corporate communications, Lynda.com. "But it can also be a boon for employees to achieve their career goals and get to the next level. We're also helping people change careers; helping folks who are reentering the workforce or who have had an extended period of unemployment have the confidence to ace interviews because they have the skills," Glaubke says.

"In fact, we had a client who told us, 'Thank you for making this HTML5 training available. Because of that, I was able to salvage my career once Flash became obsolete.'"

Sharon Florentine covers IT careers and data center topics for CIO.com. Follow Sharon on Twitter @MyShar0na. Email her at sflorentine@cio.com Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook.

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