Lifelong learning has been the popular catchphrase of education for at least as long as I’ve been teaching. In the constantly changing world, continuous learning will help us both adapt to new situations and understand new perspectives.
At the moment, I don’t have a job in my field, but I’m searching the web and applying for interesting jobs that I can qualify for. In the meantime, I’m considering hanging up my own shingle to do training and performance improvement consulting under the umbrella of my friend’s business services company. That means that my personal development plan will be extremely personal. I won’t be able to rely on a company’s plan because I am the company. Fortunately, I have a few ideas.
Formal education involves taking courses, usually at the university level. Some companies have their own in-house formal education opportunities now, too (Noe, 2013). This option for personal development can help expand knowledge and capabilities which can lead to opportunities to practice and gain skills.
Not too long ago, formal education meant attending a university, which can be rather costly. These days, there are other options including open courseware such as Versal and Coursera. Some universities such as MIT now offer open courseware, too.
I might even decide to go for my PhD at some point, but I need a break and an opportunity to gain practical experience. The experience, combined with some feedback from supervisors and peers, will show me where I still have weaknesses in my understanding. That can show me what kind of formal education might be helpful.
If I do decide to go for a PhD, there might be tuition reimbursement (Noe, 2013). Naturally, if I end up flying solo for a while, there’s no one to reimburse me, and I’d have to foot my own bill like I’m doing for my Master’s.
Unless my final course is a total disaster, I expect to finish my Master’s and graduate at the end of June. I’ve already started job hunting, but finding a job can take a while. Like many job seekers, I’m running afoul of the all too common chicken-and-egg scenario of needing experience to be able to find a job but needing a job before I can get experience. Fortunately, there are ways to get experience without a job.
Volunteer work can provide some experience. I was once a volunteer facilitator for Texas Parks and Wildlife’s Project WILD curriculum. If I’m still hunting for a job when I graduate, I plan to seek out some volunteer opportunities like Project WILD. This will give me a way to practice what I learned, and it will provide me with some useful experience.
Personality assessments come in many different varieties. You get common ones like the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory, the closely related Keirsey Temperament Sorter, and a slew of silly ones accessible on social media sites. You know, the sort that tell you “what color your soul is” or “which Jedi would you be.” Those are handy for what they tell you, but I get pretty consistent results on MBTI: I __ __ J. I red-line the “introvert” and the “judging” and split the difference on the two middle ones depending on which version of the test I take. I don’t have much to learn from that now, and it really isn’t too useful for a job setting anyway.
There are other kinds of assessments that can be more useful for a workplace scenario, like 360 feedback. This is done by not just a supervisor but also by colleagues and others who know the work you do. Unlike the MBTI and other personality tests, 360 feedback gives specific, critical feedback about your actual performance. This can help by finding strengths and weaknesses, not just the personality traits I most often express. If I know where my weaknesses are, I can work on fixing them.
An externship involves doing work for one company while you officially work for another. This is typically done to teach the trainee a new skill that the other, hosting company is particularly good at (Noe, 2013). Externships tend to be very short, a few days to a few weeks at most. During that time, the trainee shadows someone and may have opportunities to ask questions and perhaps even participate in assignments (Smith, 2013). Unlike an internship, which can have a huge time commitment, externships are short duration, so the company the trainee comes from is not short on their talent for too long (Smith, 2013). In exchange for the time spent away, the trainee gains practical knowledge.
While I’m learning my way around my new education, externships might provide a useful way to gain experience in different facets of training and performance improvement. Additionally, I can make contact with people in the field which can be useful for networking (Noe, 2013). Sharing ideas and building a network of subject matter experts will be useful as my career grows and I encounter new roles.
Personal growth is important. Improving my knowledge and skills can be done in several ways, but no matter how I decide to grow in my career, experience and feedback from others around me will be valuable. Many companies have a system in place for that, but if I decide to join my friend’s business consulting service, I will have to be a little more proactive in my professional and personal development.
Noe, R. A. (2013). Employee training and development (6th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw Hill.
Smith, J. (2013). Externships: What are they and why are they important. Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/jacquelynsmith/2013/05/30/externships-what-they-are-and-why-theyre-important/