Build your career-boosting training plan

Who organises your training for you? Do you wait for your firm to do it? Is it your manager who decides on your future development? Or is it you? If you're not firmly involved in your own future, you can't expect anyone else to be, says Helen Vandevelde. Here she explains how to take control of your career, by building your own skills and training plan

By Helen Vandevelde

The expectation on PAs to act on their own initiative, solve problems and anticipate managers' requirements has increased in recent years.
Rather than waiting on instructions, the modern PA role has become more managerial. However, few PAs have taken this emphasis on asserting control into the most significant aspect of their professional existence, namely investing in skills to enhance their career prospects.
Three factors have reinforced the value of skills investments:

• the end of job security

• the flattening of organisational hierarchies

• the speed with which skills become obsolete.

These developments have increased both risk and choice. Flatter organisations increase opportunities for lateral moves which broaden experience. The reducing shelf-life of skills means PAs have to judge the areas to extend their abilities - keeping up with technology, for example, or relating to a wider diversity of people.
So short-term decisions about which training course to attend or which e-learning package to follow, will not cover the full range of skills PAs need, to maximise their career opportunities. Producing a training plan is now an indispensable part of career planning.

You can produce your training plan in five key stages:

1. Logging the skills you have now

2. Deciding the direction you would like your career to take

3. Identifying the additional skills you need to pursue that career aspiration

4. Producing a schedule of learning activities to a timescale

5. Following your schedule, and reviewing your progress to identify any amendments you need to make.

There is a sixth stage if your company is not willing to provide financial support for all or part of your plan. This is calculating the cost of what you will be financing yourself, and drawing up your schedule in the light of what you can afford. Let's look at each of these stages in turn…

Logging your skills

Make a list of everything you can do that has value in the workplace. Invariably, this will cover a broader range of skills than you actually use in your current job. You might have a foreign language that you can reactivate. Or perhaps you can do the kind of data analysis that your current employer does not have a need for.

Take a hard look at your list, and assess which of your skills are unlikely to be needed in coming years. You might, for instance, be a speedy audio-typist, but with voice-to-text software improving rapidly, you might conclude that you need to develop an alternative core skill to maintain your value into the long-term.

Deciding on your career direction

It helps to reflect on your career priorities by asking yourself a series of questions. How recently have you changed jobs? Are you looking for promotion and greater responsibility? Or do you have other commitments which prevent you from taking that route now? If so, do you want to broaden your experience so that when you are ready, you will be able to convince an employer that you meet the requirements for a more high profile role?
You may not find all the answers straightforward. Talk these issues through with a colleague you trust. And revisit them as you progress through your plan.

Identifying the skills you need

You may need support with this exploration too. The ideal is to talk to someone who is already doing the kind of job you aspire to. They will tell you what the key skills are, how the job is changing, and the kinds of experience that will enable you to put yourself forward with confidence when the time comes. Your research should tell you which skills you already have, which ones you need to improve, and which new skills you need.

Producing a schedule of learning activities

Workplace development used to be about acquiring a narrow range of skills by attending training courses. At the end of the course, you would know how to process an order or how to deal with an irate person on the telephone.
Nowadays the range of learning activity is much broader, reflecting the versatility that is expected from multi-taskers like PAs. So, you can learn from:

• face-to-face training

• e-learning programmes

• experience

• being mentored

• 'blended' activities that combine these options.

Following your schedule and reviewing progress

As your learning develops, think beyond what is immediately available - training packages offered by your employer, for example. Just as important is your own preferred learning style. Do you learn best by trying things out for yourself, by someone showing you, or by reading and doing your own research? Monitor how you learn best, and be ready to change the delivery pattern of your programme to suit your learning preferences.

Finally, make your learning pay. When you feel confident that you have a broader range of skills to offer a prospective employer, test the market and see how far you get with some job applications. If you are successful, you will activate your new skills immediately and prevent them from becoming dormant.

And then you can start thinking about your next training plan!
Helen Vandevelde is a conference speaker on skills investments for the future. Check out her expert guidance at

Share this page with your friends


Share this page with your friends.