How to advance your career and upgrade your skills without going back to school

A common challenge many Canadians face is feeling stuck in their jobs and dissatisfied with their careers. A 2022 survey by Léger found that 24 per cent of workers are less satisfied with their jobs compared to 2021. However, many Canadians cannot find time to go to school and pursue a new career. What if you’re stuck in a job but can’t return to school? The challenge is real and common. Some challenges preventing individuals from career advancement include lack of qualifications and time, financial obligations and industry changes.

Additionally, the traditional career ladder has changed significantly. Harvard Business Review writes that non-linear career expectations have replaced the traditional career ladder. Workers can no longer expect to be promoted without upgrading their skills or education.

Professional development has become integral to career advancement and career changes. Read ahead to learn about resources that can help you advance in your current industry or pivot your professional journey for new opportunities.

Online courses

Sometimes workers cannot go back to school for a full degree or diploma, but their education isn’t sufficient for the new roles they want. One option is to take a more targeted approach by enrolling in professional development courses. Professional development courses can advance your career by showing interest and relevance in your field, leading to better earning potential.

In some situations, a complete industry change could be out of reach, but new or similar roles could be realistic options. You can consider taking a few courses that will allow you to upgrade your skills or acquire new ones. Of course, which courses to take varies greatly depending on your end goal, but certain strategies apply to various situations.

One factor to consider is whether you are trying to get a certification or simply want to learn something new. Regarding earning potential, it may be best to pursue a certificate as it will prove to employers that you have gained the necessary knowledge and skills from your completed courses. However, if you’re interested in an exciting learning opportunity, many high-quality online courses are available in nearly any sector. Toronto Public Library offers free access to over 16,000 LinkedIn Learning courses. All you need is to be a cardholder and resident of Toronto.


Another professional development avenue to explore is micro-credentials. Although they are a recent phenomenon, they are quickly being recognized as a legitimate form of education by various workplaces.

Micro-credentials allow individuals to fill gaps in their skills and resumes. If you want to grow your career in a specific area, you can take a micro-credential to gain a certified skill or enhance your knowledge of a subject area. Typically, they are offered by Canadian universities and colleges, and many are available online.

According to an article published by Course Compare, some industries particularly benefit from this form of education. For example, IT professionals would benefit from earning micro-credentials. IT is a rapidly changing field with constant obsolescence, so it makes sense that workers need to stay on top of new technology to stay relevant. Although workers can sometimes learn this information for free, in a tight labour market, certification in a skill or area could mean the difference between getting a job and not.

Ontario has a searchable micro-credential portal where you can easily find micro-credentials offered by Ontario universities and colleges. Micro-credentials are eligible for OSAP funding, meaning finances won’t prevent you from professional development.

Graduate certificates

Sometimes, career advancement requires a more significant investment in education than online courses or micro-credentials. Even so, a college diploma or university degree may not be necessary to pivot into something more aligned with your goals.

A graduate certificate could bridge the gap between a full diploma or degree and a micro-credential. They provide graduate-level credentials and are more specialized, professional programs than a complete master’s degree. According to Indeed, a graduate certificate is geared toward people who want to advance professionally and are interested in becoming more specialized in a specific industry.

Graduate certificates are offered part-time and full-time in various subject areas.

A different career landscape

Upskilling is critical to growing and advancing in a changing work landscape. Gaining new skills can allow you to stay relevant and competitive, leading to better pay,  job opportunities and job security. The career landscape may have changed, but new professional development resources offer workers a chance to pursue a career they’re passionate about, upgrade their skills and expand their professional opportunities.

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