ADVICE

Levelling up? There’s no one-size-fits-all approach for upskilling

SOURCE: PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP
Getting a Master’s isn’t the only way for professionals to upskill themselves.


By Yasmin 

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Future-proofing the self is no longer a straightforward approach in this digital age. An undergraduate degree may not always cut it if you are looking to bolster your employment opportunities or wish to take on more challenging roles at work that come with a bigger paycheck. 

In keeping up with career professional development, upskilling and reskilling can take place in many forms — we’re no longer limited to undergraduate degrees. Today, we have a myriad of postgraduate degrees in just about every field imaginable, while there are also micro-degrees or micro-credentials as well as executive education. These options help professionals from all walks of life brush up on their existing skills – in addition to developing news ones – in maintaining their competitive edge. 

But is one path superior to the other? What are some of the considerations that you should think about when choosing which course to embark on?

Postgrad vs microcredentials – which offers more bang for your buck?

upskilling
Graduate degrees can enhance your earning potential, and many do enjoy the pay offs from obtaining a graduate degree. Source: Michael Horn

The financial returns of a graduate degree are well documented. According to 2019 data from the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics, those with a Master’s or PhD earn more than those with only a Bachelor’s or Associate’s degree. MBA graduates typically earn more than business undergraduates. Despite this, there are still some caveats to think about. 

Author and Entangled Group head of strategy Michael B. Horn’s advice to professionals who are considering getting a postgraduate degree is to be clear about the price tag on the front end and what the return on investment (ROI) is from the programme they are looking at. 

“A lot more data exists than it used to around these ROI questions, but you should know before you enrol in a graduate programme and take on a lot of debt potentially whether it’s likely to pay off if you get the job, most folks do from those programmes,” he told U2B.

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Money is a major consideration for professionals who want to upskill themselves. Reports have indicated that student loan debt is a global problem. In just the US alone, millions of Americans have a cumulative student loan debt amounts to over $1.6 trillion. 

But when is it advisable for prospective graduate students to take on debt to pursue a graduate degree?

“It’s advisable to take on debt when you know there will be a very likely strong ROI on the other side. So if you’re going to graduate school and you’ll likely get a six-figure salary on the other side of it and have some job security, taking out some large debt can be a prudent move,” said Horn, who is also the co-founder and a distinguished fellow at non-profit think tank, the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation.

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But this isn’t necessarily the case for all careers, he cautioned. Jobs such social work may not pay as much, which makes it essential for aspiring graduate students to be wary of how much debt they take on when applying to graduate school. 

“Affordability should drive your considerations. Learners should also look into programmes that offer income share agreements whereby they won’t owe any debt, just payments that are a percentage of their future income provided that income is above a certain level. That can really de-risk the learners’ choices,” he explained.

Exploring alternative options for upskilling

Levelling up? There's no one-size-fits-all approach for upskilling
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to upskilling, so weigh out your options. Source: Robyn Beck / AFP

Postgraduate degrees are a huge investment – both financially and time-wise – but there are also options for professionals who want more affordable or less time consuming courses to facilitate their professional growth. Many universities are increasingly offering a wide range of executive education courses, as well as micromasters programmes that professionals can also tap into.

While micro-credentials are gaining traction among professionals who want to upskill and reskill, they won’t necessarily replace traditional degrees.

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“Many of these programmes are increasingly good options,” opined Horn. 

He encourages learners to look into how employers use degrees as sorting mechanisms for hiring, or if they begin following a trend before the recession in which the focus is on the underlying skills that potential employees bring, and not the credentials themselves per se.

Stacking short-term programmes may help manage risk and allow learners to pivot as they gain more information as the market evolves. Being able to “put a credential next to their name every few months is something that everyone ought to be focused on as well,” he said.

Undeniably, there are many pathways to learning and upskilling; no cookie-cutter journey will suit the needs of every professional. Ultimately, you’ll want to weigh the pros and cons of each pathway and choose those that suit your needs and interests.