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Making furlough work for your career: 5 skills you could learn whilst on leave 

By Yvonne Smyth, Head of Diversity & Inclusion, Hays

As the world of work navigates a challenging economic environment caused by the spread of Covid-19, many organisations have had to take the difficult decision to temporarily place their staff on furlough leave.

While this may seem daunting on top of social distancing restrictions, for many this time could provide an opportunity to learn new skills which might not have seemed possible in your regular daily routine.

While there’s no limit to the skills you can acquire, here are a 5 which will benefit your career and add something valuable to your CV:

1. Coding basics

You don’t have to be an IT professional to see how technology is changing the world around us and the impact it is having on jobs. No matter what industry you work in, professionals with proficient technical skills are in demand and many employers are struggling with a shortage of professionals who possess these skills.

Learning to code is a great place to start to expand your technical skills. You don’t have to become an expert, just start by getting to grips with the basics of a coding language. Code Academy is one of the most popular resources for learning to code and you can take basic courses for free. Adding a coding language to your CV will also refresh your credentials and as code is constantly evolving, you’ll always find something new to pick up. 

2. Excel proficiency

Have you ever found yourself agonising over a spreadsheet, wishing you knew the right keyboard shortcut or formula to make everything fall into place? Well, now might be the ideal time to brush up on your Excel skills. Microsoft Excel is one of the most important office programs used across the world of work and no matter what industry you work in, it’s likely that you’ll find yourself using it at some point.

YouTube is a helpful place to start if you are looking for free online resources, but if you want to go further and become a true Excel expert, there are more regimented paid courses you can pay to take remotely, such as those offered by Udemy. Proficiency on Excel will stand out on your CV and get you noticed when you return to work.

3. Data analysis

You’ve probably heard of ‘big data’. However, it would probably be more accurate to call it ‘huge data’. With so much data out there, the applications for its use in business are growing every day – from improving processes top enhancing revenue streams. However, these applications are only possible if the data can be interpreted accurately.

Udemy offers some 100,000 online courses including in data analysis from beginner level and beyond, and Google’s Analytics Academy can help you master Google Analytics and thereby discover more about the top search engine’s measurement tools.

4. Commercial awareness

Whilst not a technical skill, it’s a good thing to work on your commercial awareness in this time – increasing your understanding of how industries and businesses (aside from your own) work. It’s important to know what is going on in the world, and analyse it in a way that might better impact your organisations – and your career.

You could subscribe to The Economist or FT. Further, the global research and advisory firm Gartner provided this rundown of books that could enable you to become more effective in business in 2020. If you learn better by listening, Meanwhile, Feedspot has come up with a list of career podcasts for 2020, of relevance to a whole range of sectors.

5. Soft skills

Of course, technical skills are important to succeed in any career, but often what separates a good professional from a great one is their soft skills. In fact, according to our recent Hays Salary & Recruiting Trends 2020 guide, two-thirds of employers cite communication and interpersonal skills as important – yet only around half of employees say they are actively developing this skillset. Other soft skills in demand include the ability to problem-solve, flexibility and adaptability, people management and coordinating with others.

Soft skills are not innate, but can be learned – either in the workplace or via training. For those wanting to improve theirs whilst on furlough leave during lockdown, Udemy offers a range of course. OpenLearn, part of the Open University, also offers courses on effective communication in the workplace, personal branding for career success, working in diverse teams, developing career resilience and more.

Remember: use this time wisely to prepare for the future

Just because you are on furlough leave doesn’t mean that you need to neglect your career. Try to view this time as a positive opportunity to broaden your horizons and pick up some skills which you wouldn’t have done otherwise – and in so doing, prepare yourself to climb the career ladder upon your return.

About this author

Yvonne is Head of Diversity & Inclusion at Hays, working with our clients to ensure their recruitment strategies are aligned with the latest equality, diversity and inclusion (ED&I) policies and initiatives. She is responsible for creating and implementing diverse recruitment strategies that effectively support the representation of more diverse staff profiles within their business.

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