Meeting industry heroes and upskilling during Covid-19

By Michelle Nelson

July 13, 2020 

I heard an interesting stat the other day. Kids ask their parents 300+ questions a day. Love a stat.

But it got me thinking, ‘When does our curiosity for the world around us emerge?’. I was definitely the child that asked ‘Why?’ and who could be found working my way through the shelves of my local library for a book I hadn’t read, which I’d later tear through by torchlight under the bedcovers.

That love for learning has been my constant companion over the years. Love it or hate it, lately you may not have had a choice. Certainly, a spot of judicious remote learning could be just the ticket to break you out of lockdown, help you upskill or simply be a source of comfort and support.

At the start of this year, after three intensive years of study alongside my full-time job, I was looking forward to kicking back with a bit of light reading in the garden at the weekend with a glass of Pimms. But, thanks to COVID-19, I’ve found myself spending more time at home. And guess what, the urge to learn soon returned.

Virtually we have no limit on our learning. Virtual is our global classroom and the world are our classmates. There are no limits to our learning and the people we can reach out to.

Granted, we are all at different stages in how COVID-19 has impacted our lives – so do something or do nothing, it's your choice. It doesn’t even have to be career related. It is what makes you feel stimulated whether that be learning candle making or string theory.

But, if it is career-related, and you are thinking of pivoting your career or just enhancing your skillset – the first thing I would recommend you do is:

  1. Get a big pad of paper  
  2. Write down all the things you are good at and not so good at
  3. Look at it as a sort of Venn diagram – what is the bit in the middle? The ‘I want to know more about this’, ‘never want to do any of that ever again’, or ‘I have always wanted to try this’. Or maybe, if you are reaching for the next rung on the career ladder, ‘what will help me get my next job?’.

I wanted to broaden my knowledge of coding. I had managed over 10 websites with agencies over my career and coded the odd newsletter, but I had never built a website from scratch.

By chance I received an email from Camb.AI, promoting new courses on learning coding from Codefirstgirls. Look them up! They are a great initiative offering free courses to try and get more women into the STEM community.

So, I signed up and, on a Thursday at 6.30 pm, I joined an eight-week virtual course with 20+ other coding newbies from around the UK. After introductions, it was straight into the world of HTML, CSS and JavaScript with live demos, homework, and a Google drive and Slack network to collaborate. Our mission, should we choose to accept it and complete the course, was to create our own website in groups and put it online. My project group chose cinema and we developed two pages each. I created the comedy and about us page. Chatting with each other on Slack I found a virtual camaraderie and spirit of curiosity to learn more about web developing.

Our week eight finale was a show and tell of each other’s sites. I had begun genuinely looking forward to tuning into these weekly sessions and working with my project group and it was with excitement tinged with sadness that I logged onto the group link for the final end of term webinar. Our teams had done our tutors proud. Three websites with three completely different themes and which surprisingly looked thoroughly professional. The first was for a virtual book club, the second for an Italian restaurant and ours for the love of film. The course culminated with a small drinks reception and with a prize given at the end for the best website. It’s certainly whetted my appetite to do more, especially since our project team won best website design, but most of all for me it was the taking part and meeting kindred spirits who had the same shared passion to learn.

In recent weeks I have attended probably about 40 webinars given by a variety of providers on agile project management, data analytics in PR, marketing trends and design thinking. I am interested in technology and data and how it can be applied to marketing communications. Aside from meeting great people online, it has also been about meeting my heroes too. If you’d told me in the space of six weeks I’d be in a room with Rand Fishkin from Moz, Mark Ritson, Tom Fishburne and Belinda Waldock, I’d have found it hard to believe, but this lockdown has done that. It has put some of our key industry thought leaders and provokers at our fingertips.

For me, as well as learning, it is also about giving back and helping others. I have provided a list below of some of the links I have found useful. As a member of the CIPR and volunteer Committee member for East Anglia, I have been working with the team locally and nationally to co-host webinars, mentor colleagues who want to become chartered and to host training and guidance events. These resources can be found on the CIPR East Anglia website and the CIPR’s extensive database of learning.

If your interest in learning during lockdown has also been sparked, what are your goals? Or, if you have already embarked on a learning challenge since lockdown, what are you up to? I would genuinely be interested to hear about your learning experiences during lockdown. #lifelonglearning

Webinars resources

The Marketing Meet-up – founded by Joe Glover hosts physical and virtual marketing events around the UK and overseas – check out the recent blogs from industry greats.

Cambridge Network - a broad selection of industry focussed events and webinars

Marketing Week – The Lowdown – A series of prominent industry speakers share their thoughts on everything from humour and creativity to the importance of brand and leadership during COVID-19.

PR Insight – A series of podcasts and virtual events from PRmoment focussing on PR measurement and wider industry topics

Picture credit - Image by congerdesign from Pixabay.