Like many professionals, HR practitioners have experienced furloughs, layoffs or reduced hours as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. But there’s a silver lining: Having more time on your hands means you have an opportunity to focus on your professional development, which can be a game changer for your career.
“We live in a skills-based economy,” says Latesha Byrd, a Charlotte, N.C.-based professional career coach and consultant. In other words, many employers base their hiring decisions on a job candidate’s abilities; thus, having a robust set of skills makes you more marketable to employers.
Whether you’re working or not, you should be taking steps to build your professional skills in order to stay relevant, says Henna Pryor, an executive coach and founder of the Pryority Group in Philadelphia. “If you were to poll the most successful leaders across every industry, the common thread you would find is they’re all voracious learners,” she notes.
Christine Andrukonis, founder of Notion Consulting, a global change leadership consultancy in New York City, says savvy professionals really have no choice. “Learning new skills is essentially a mandate,” she says. “New skills mean new opportunities.”
Here are nine ways to grow your HR skills and advance in your career.
Focus on In-Demand Skills
HR jobs require a wide range of skills. According to experts and studies, the following talents are in highest demand today:
Diversity, equity and inclusion. New research shows that employers are making advances in diversity, equity and inclusion as companies make pay equity, diverse talent pipelines and inclusive workplaces a priority.
Employee engagement. Although engagement levels reached a record high in 2019, more than 1 in 10 workers (13 percent) still said they were “actively disengaged” at work, a Gallup survey found.
Time management. “HR professionals wear a lot of hats, and they have to be able to juggle a lot of tasks,” Byrd says.
Executive coaching. Fewer than half of 1,000 C-suite executives ranked their organization’s overall leadership quality as “excellent” or “very good,” according to the Development Dimensions International Global Leadership Forecast 2018. That echoes Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) findings that nearly 2 out of 5 HR professionals (39 percent) believe developing the next generation of organizational leaders will be their greatest human capital challenge in the next 10 years.
Conflict management. Workplace conflict is widespread. Proof: An extensive study done on the issue by CPP Inc., “Workplace Conflict and How Businesses Can Harness It to Thrive,” found that U.S. employees spent roughly two hours per week involved in conflict (defined as “any workplace disagreement that disrupts the flow of work”).
People analytics. More employers are using metrics to improve their HR practices and achieve organizational objectives, so consider earning the SHRM People Analytics Specialty Credential. Doing so will demonstrate to employers that you possess the foundational knowledge and analytics literacy needed to examine data and effectively communicate research-supported recommendations.
Emotional intelligence. Often abbreviated as EQ, emotional intelligence (or emotional quotient) is the ability to perceive another’s emotions, reactions and perspective, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically. In HR, emotional intelligence has many real-world applications.
Concentrate on Your Weaknesses
Zero in on areas where you need the most improvement. Don’t know what they are? “Reach out to colleagues and ask where you shine and where you struggle,” suggests Andrukonis. “Focus on attacking your Achilles’ heel.”
Your boss can also provide a pulse check on where you can grow. “Ask your manager if they think there’s a skill that would be useful for you to learn,” Pryor says. “Maybe your boss is looking for someone on your team to become more knowledgeable on a specific subject.”
Find Quality Classes and Tutorials Online
There’s no shortage of online courses to give you a knowledge boost. LinkedIn Learning—which offers 30 days of free access to its online video courses—covers hundreds of topics. Also, online education platforms such as Udemy, Coursera and edX offer thousands of free and low-cost classes for professionals. Just make sure to read reviews before you enroll, Andrukonis advises.
Moreover, YouTube isn’t just a great source for cat videos—the site has a glut of tutorials that can help you hone your professional skills. (Examples include “5 HR Career Skills You Need on Your Resume!” and “HR Analytics and How to Get Started.”)
Look into Employer-Funded Training
Have you found an appealing class that costs money? See if your company will pay for it. Many employers provide paid professional training for workers.
“A lot of large organizations offer professional development reimbursement, or they’ll allow their employees to pitch a class that they’d like to take and will pay for the course if it teaches a skill that will make them a more valuable employee,” says Angelina Darrisaw, founder of the New York City-based career coaching firm C-Suite Coach.
Connect with Your Classmates
Online classes aren’t just for learning new skills—they can also be great for growing your professional network, says Sarah Mann, SHRM-SCP, an executive coach and principal of Spark HR Solutions in Boston.
“You can learn so much from other professionals in your field,” Pryor adds.
Pro tip: Create a virtual study group to build relationships with your online peers. And once you’ve connected with people, stay in touch so that you’ll be in a position to leverage the relationships in the future.
Get to Know Your Teachers
Instructors of online classes are often subject matter experts as well as people who are accomplished in their field, Pryor says. So take time to build professional relationships with educators in addition to your peers. “Having a mentor who’s outside of your company can give you a unique perspective,” she adds.
Try Micro-Learning Opportunities
Don’t have the time or attention span to take a full online course? “A short webinar allows you to take in information in bite-sized chunks,” Mann says. And because many webinars are prerecorded, you can learn at your own pace.
Seek Out Other Online Learning Opportunities
Online courses aren’t the only digital resources at your disposal. “Virtual conferences can also be great learning opportunities, and they’ve become increasingly popular because of the coronavirus,” Darrisaw says.
In addition, “podcasts and TED Talks are phenomenal sources of professional development that don’t cost a dime,” Pryor says.
Carve Out Time in Your Schedule
Don’t let your professional development fall by the wayside. The best way to make skills development a priority is to allocate time for it. This should be easier to do if you’re not working. Or, if you’re now working from home, use the time you would have spent commuting to learn new skills.
Daniel Bortz is a freelance writer based in Arlington, Va.
Ready to hit the books? Taking one—or all—of these six online classes will help you expand your skills and stay relevant in today’s workplace without leaving your couch. Plus, they’re all free.
The University of Pennsylvania’s “People Analytics” (Coursera)
This course, led by three Wharton School professors, is an introduction to the theory of people analytics. It explores state-of-the-art techniques that employers use to recruit and retain talent, and it shows how these techniques are implemented at cutting-edge companies.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s “HR Fundamentals” (FutureLearn)
Just getting your HR career off the ground? Consider taking this crash course that explores the basic principles of workforce planning, recruitment and retention. The class is offered by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, a U.K.-based not-for-proﬁt organization that provides professional training and accreditation to HR practitioners.
The University of Minnesota's "Managing Employee Performance" (Coursera)
Learn how to help employees reach their full potential through this course, which breaks down how to implement performance management systems, provide positive and corrective feedback, and lead effective performance reviews.
The Rochester Institute of Technology’s “Business Communication” (EdX)
Want to be a better communicator at work? This course shows how to use language and nonverbal communication when building face-to-face and remote professional relationships.
James Nicholas Kinney’s “Building a High Performance Company Culture” (Skillshare)
Company culture coach Kinney delivers no-frills, step-by-step instructions on how to create a sustainable company culture. You’ll learn how to use feedback loops, devise culture campaigns and effectively measure performance. (You can sign up for a free, 14-day Skillshare trial before enrolling.)
Veterans at Work Certificate Program (SHRM Foundation)
The SHRM Foundation’s Veterans at Work Certificate program has trained thousands of HR professionals and is widely recognized as the professional development program for employers that want to create inclusive cultures and workplaces for veterans. Complete this program, developed for HR professionals, hiring managers and front-line supervisors, to learn the value that skilled veterans bring to the civilian workplace and to demonstrate your commitment to attract, hire and retain these talented professionals.