Boost your skills

And improve your job prospects
By JEFF INGLIS  |  August 30, 2013

Want a new job? Or a promotion at your existing workplace? You have to learn more, do more, get more skills. It’s as simple as that.

But first, let’s get the bad news out of the way. Many employers want new hires to have skills they haven’t yet learned, even if they’re college grads. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, these are things like efficient work practices, how to handle customers on the phone, and how to communicate effectively in a businesslike way. Some of the people competing for job openings will have experience doing that stuff; if you don’t, your chances of getting a welcome-to-the-team phone call drop through the floor.

The good news is that you can acquire these skills fairly quickly, and without spending a lot of cash. Portland Adult Education — which is open to all Mainers (though Portlanders get a discount) — has classes on a wide range of job skills, in the realm of office work as well as the skilled trades. The fall schedule just came out, so check it over carefully at portlandadulted.org.

Most classes happen a couple times a week for a few months, and cost between $85 and $125, though some are more expensive. In other words, this is a relatively cheap way to buff your CV, without taking a big chunk out of your bank account — or your schedule.

Some of the classes teach pretty basic material, but it can be good for an intro if you haven’t used a particular piece of software before (like Microsoft Access, a database-management program), or if you need to brush up on accounting, or practice public speaking.

They’re all taught by local instructors, many of whom are professional active in the fields they’re teaching about, and may be able to connect you with employers seeking people with just the skills you’re learning.

You can start new projects, taking classes in website design, or specific design applications (Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign). Or you can give your existing knowledge a boost, with “in a day” workshops, where people with basic knowledge of a piece of software can take just a few hours to pick up more complex techniques.

PAE also has courses to introduce you to a range of trades: woodworking, welding, electrical work, and plumbing. They can be good starting points to see if you like something enough to pursue a degree or certification, without risking a lot if it turns out not to be quite what you had hoped.

If you’re really committed to professional education, you can enter one of PAE’s certificate programs, which give you an unlimited amount of time to finish taking a prescribed set of courses. The three main certificates are for being an office assistant, accounting clerk, or working in a medical office. They each carry a core of eight basic office-skills courses, plus five certificate-specific classes to get you ready to take an entry-level job. (There’s also a “Microsoft Office Applications” certificate, if you take the classes teaching the basics of the five most commonly used Microsoft programs.)

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