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The Roddick Gates at the main entrance to McGill University campus are seen in this file photo from Nov. 14, 2017, in Montreal. Many education institutions have accelerated their online course offerings to provide both degree and diploma credit courses virtually.

Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

When many people worked with their hands, maintaining one’s tools – sharpening the saw, for example – was a regular ritual to make sure you were ready to tackle the day’s work. Indeed, even today, you can often tell true craftspeople in the trades by how they care for their tools, whether that’s the carpenter coming to your home, the chef in their kitchen or even the person cutting your hair.

It’s not really that much different for those of us who work mostly with our heads. For those in the licensed professions, such as doctors, nurses, teachers, lawyers and accountants, among many others, there are often mandatory annual learning requirements intended to make sure that key skills don’t atrophy over time. And, it’s obviously beneficial that members of these professions keep up with the latest developments.

Although not a licensed profession, coaching is one among many self-regulated professional lines of work that requires certified coaches like me to maintain continuing professional development, and actively work with other coaches to refine our skills and stay abreast of the latest techniques. Those holding a designation and working in human resources, communications, project management and countless other professional business roles have similar requirements. That’s all part of these credentials meaning something in the marketplace: that it took dedicated learning, experience and passing an assessment to earn it, and that it likewise takes something to maintain it beyond merely paying annual dues.

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Even if you’re not a member of a licensed or self-regulated professional group with mandatory requirements, the same mindset should apply, especially when we’re in the relative doldrums of self-isolation or needing to think about developing our skills to stay marketable in challenging economic times. Sharpening our own saw in these cases means tuning out the latest trendy series on that streaming service and investing in our personal learning.

Fortunately, many of the groups that provide relevant learning opportunities – such as professional bodies, service firms and universities or colleges – are responding to the current pandemic by making their learning virtual. And, a good deal of it is being provided either free or at significantly reduced rates to recognize that times – and jobs – are uncertain. This isn’t, in my view, a cynical ploy to draw in people with “freemium” style products where you need to pay for something beyond the most basic features, but a genuine desire to help and demonstrate the quality of their offerings.

Online learning sites such as Coursera, Udemy, edX and LinkedIn Learning are among those offering either free or discounted learning courses that span many different business subject areas, all with strong design and relevance to most of today’s roles. Whatever your background and current skills, you’re likely to find some learning that will benefit your current role, or allow you to start exploring a new area that your organization has identified as important.

Beyond commercial services, many education institutions have accelerated their online course offerings to provide both degree and diploma credit courses virtually. Although most of these involve a fee, they’re able to count toward a future degree or diploma.

Lots of local libraries have also responded to branch closings by increasing the number of copies of online books you can borrow and read electronically on your computer, tablet or e-reader unit. Popular business books that otherwise fly off the shelves may be easier to get, and most libraries offer access to online business journals and magazines for free.

Whatever your role or profession, these quieter times are some that are almost ideal to do that learning you usually don’t have time for amid the hustle and bustle of work and life commitments. You’ll be sharpening your saw in these dull times, and will thank yourself when you get back to the “normal” world of work.

Eileen Dooley is a principal and executive coach in the leadership practice of Odgers Berndtson, global executive search and leadership advisory firm.

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