Contract work is built around skills: Companies hire workers with the best abilities in their given areas of expertise, whether that is designing mobile cloud platforms or creating supply chain processes for engineering projects. Contracts revolve around an exchange of these talents, and expanding your own skill set is a great way to make yourself more marketable as a contractor. Regularly working to improve your abilities is all the more important in the IT and engineering fields, since technology is evolving at a faster rate than ever before.
Dedicating time and effort to widening your abilities and areas of expert knowledge pays dividends, establishing you as top-tier talent. While being an expert in one specific skill is valuable, pursuing other learning opportunities and expanding your repertoire shows current and future employers that you are committed to professional development and that you are an active, dynamic worker.
Here are four ways you can improve your skill set as a contractor:
1. Prioritize staying in tune with your industry
Stellar contractors that consistently exceed their employers’ expectations – and those that garner the most valuable contracts – are the ones who make it a priority to stay up-to-date with all that is happening in their industry. By doing this, they can assess how their current skills are being viewed by thought leaders in the field, and can anticipate which skills they should learn next. Instead of waiting to read up on in-demand abilities when they are looking for their next contract, savvy contractors stay one step ahead of the curve – and the competition – by identifying highly valued skills as soon as they emerge.
Make it a habit to read industry publications, journals and news sites, as well as to attend industry conferences and conventions. For example, contractors who keep up with the news would know that cloud computing, big data analysis and cybersecurity-related abilities are all highly in-demand skills in 2016.
2. Learn from the best
When you were in school, you probably at one point or another struggled with an equation in your math book, only to have it suddenly become clear once your teacher sat down and walked you through it. Sometimes, the best way to learn something is through demonstration. A great way to improve your skill set as a contractor is to seek out mentorship or cross-training opportunities. Pairing up with a veteran employee in your field teaches you firsthand new skills that you may not have had the chance to develop otherwise. As an added benefit, this will also open up the door for networking opportunities both inside and outside the company.
3. Dedicate time to training
In addition to having a mentor, another way to improve your skill set as a contractor is to enroll in in-depth training programs, both inside the company where you are on assignment, and through CDI University. With the growing importance placed on professional development across nearly all industries, many employers now offer training programs in a wide variety of skills and specializations, some of which may be open to contractors. There are also an endless array of workshops that provide the opportunity for targeted skill development. CDI University helps in this area by providing free, 24/7 access to thousands of courses, books and other learning resources that can help you widen your areas of expertise.
4. Seek out challenges
You can read trade publications, work with a mentor and enroll in training courses, but sometimes the best way to learn is through trial by fire. Instead of avoiding complex problems and challenges you encounter during your contract work, approach them with an open mind and determination, especially if they are related to a set of skills that you have not mastered yet. You’ll be forced to put what you know to the test and quickly pick up new abilities, improving your overall skill set as a contractor. Also, partnering with your CDI recruiter when you are between assignments can help you identify new work opportunities where you can not only leverage your existing skill set, but also take on new challenges that will expand your experience.
Ultimately, the need to maintain and constantly expand your skill set is critical to remain marketable as a contractor. The above tips can both help you stay on top of your game, and present you with a wider range of work opportunities that would not have been possible without additional knowledge or experience.