I recently met a couple of freelancers who are investing with Scripbox and the conversation that developed helped me understand their work as well as the approach to it.

One of the things that struck me was that they do spend a lot of their resources in improving their suitability for the job – be it upgrading their skills or their equipment. For a freelancer, being the person who has the most currently in-demand skills might mean the difference between a lucrative project, or facing a period of zero income.

I also realized that most of us working full-time jobs rarely do the same. A lot of us think that getting a job is the end goal and one doesn’t need to learn anything after that – except what the employer provided training covers.

Ask yourself, when was the last time, after getting your degree, you invested in acquiring a new skill?

So with 2017 still young, this is one thing you must make a top priority. Here’s a series of steps you can take to get started with this urgent task.

#1. Understand your role and then self-assess

While it might seem like an obvious thing, but understanding the roles you have held so far is important as they point towards the skills you have gained and are also being hired for in the first place. Know the top two or three things you do in your job and which actually involve a skill. That is what you know and are paid for. If in doubt, talk to your manager. Note this down.

#2. Plot your skill journey

You probably have a boss, and they too have a boss. Do you know what they really do? How are they judged? Know and understand what skills will be required for you to get in their shoes. These are the skills you will need if your industry remains as is. These are skills you will anyway have to work towards. Know what skill will be required at which stage of your career.

List the skills you must acquire to progress in your current role.

But what if your industry changes? How do you know if an investment in the skills of your current industry make sense?

#3. See the change coming

Understand how your industry has evolved, and what has normally been the precursor for change in that industry. Nobody sees mass layoffs coming with any degree of real accuracy. But required skills tend to miss these layoffs every single time or tend to get re-hired quickly.For example, 15 years ago J2EE was a must know when developing business applications. Then .NET became the norm. More recently developers started playing around with Ruby and Rails and what began as an experiment became mainstream in business applications. Monitoring what the development community is beginning to find interesting is a good way to assess if something is a skill to have for the future.

Make a list of the “new” skills that the industry may require. Can you acquire them before everyone else?

#4. Understand alternatives to the industry you operate in

If you have worked for longer than three or four years, you begin to understand which industry you might want to join and develop in. The next step for you is to understand the value of the skills you have in that industry and the applicability of these in other industries.

For example, an experienced data analyst may have the option to move from financial services to E-commerce.

#5. Invest time and money in your learning and skill development

Investing is not just about investing to grow your money, it’s also to grow your ability to make money. Staying static in terms of skill-sets in today’s rapidly changing work environment is a bad idea.

Each year you must allocate a certain percentage of your earnings as well as time to updating your existing skills or acquiring new/related skills. List down the skills you “must” acquire or upgrade. Find out if it requires an investment of only time or money as well. Create a specific fund for these investments in yourself. Start allocating 5% of your monthly earnings to such a fund.