Of the many benefits that come with working for yourself as an IT contractor, having to worry about your own professional development is not one of them. Employees regularly get to rely on their employer to coordinate the training plans and classes that help them advance their career. Independent contractors are not so lucky.
Planning training and development is yet another IT contractor responsibility, above and beyond completing projects and serving clients. There are so many options and it can be hard just knowing where to start. Here are a few common areas for professional development and some suggestions on where to start.
Types of Professional Development
The term "Professional Development" is very broad and comes in all shapes and sizes. If you know you have to advance yourself somehow, then consider your current progress in any of these areas and prioritize what to do next:
Skills (New and Existing): When most of us think about training, we think about the core skills we use in our job. For example, a Developer may look into enhancing their knowledge in their preferred programming language or learning a new one. Start by understanding your industry and the trends of common skills your clients will be demanding, then decide what skills you need to build.
Certifications: If there's any way to stand out to a client (and sometimes just qualify for a contract position) it's to earn a relevant certification in your field. Though it may require you to sit through some courses on information you already know, certifications are important for IT contractors and will make you more competitive.
Soft Skills: Unless you're swimming in certifications and have the best skills of anyone else in the market, you must have top-notch soft skills to compete. This includes time management, organization, email etiquette, meeting etiquette, emotional intelligence or conflict resolution. Many contractors we've spoken with stated that most important soft skill they want their colleagues to have is outstanding communication skills.
Industry Knowledge: As noted above, knowing what's happening in your industry and the most in-demand requirements is crucial. In addition to knowing what skills to improve, you'll also be able to plan for trends like upcoming opportunities with specific clients and job shortages in certain regions.
How Can IT Contractors Find Training Opportunities?
Enroll in a Class: The most obvious way to learn something new is to register for a class or workshop. This can be through your industry association, an online course or a local school. Completing a course provides you with something tangible for your resume; however, it's also time consuming and can cost money.
Read: Read everything. Newspapers articles, magazines and books published by industry-leaders in your field are guaranteed to provide you with additional knowledge that will help you move forward. Also, don't discount the social media posts by people you follow -- there's always something new to learn if you just look for it.
Network: Networking events -- both online and offline -- give you the opportunity to pick the brains of other professionals in your field. You'll learn about best practices, trends and about more unique learning opportunities.
Ask Questions: Go a step beyond just networking and ask everyone questions. Your clients, recruiters, team members... everyone you come across can teach you something. A simple question such as "Why do you do it this way" or "What do you think of this" can open up a discussion and ultimately expand your mind to improve your work.
In conclusion, training and development is more than just enhancing your core skills and it does not have to be an expensive nor time consuming endeavor. While enrolling in classes will offer you the most tangible benefits, when you keep an open-mind and embrace all opportunities to learn, you will improve as a professional and ultimately enjoy more success.