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When the scope of the COVID-19 pandemic became apparent to the public, the business world went into a tailspin. Vital lockdown measures quickly hampered countless companies in major ways: those reliant upon visitors and not considered essential could only shutter their premises and hope to weather the storm, while others suffered from changing consumer interests or had issues adapting to the new remote working paradigm.

As a result, many workers lost their jobs, but many more were furloughed: taken out of work but kept on the books in the hope that they could return when things get better. Those furloughed are generally still being paid (through a combination of employer funds and government funds), but that doesn’t mean they have things easy.

A furloughed worker can get bored like anyone else, and they can certainly worry. There are no guarantees that their job will still be there for them when lockdown measures are eventually lifted, after all. So what should they do with this free time during which they can’t really work? Well, they should get proactive and work on their skills. Here’s how to do it:

Take advantage of online training programs

The internet is the biggest pool of resources that has ever existed, and it’s accessible to almost everyone at this point. People are increasingly noticing that they don’t need to pursue standard degree courses or attend in-person classes to learn new things: they can learn online, whether through using free online courses or just reading anything relevant they can find.

For example, to boost your technical knowledge in automation, you could turn to Rockwell Automation, Siemens, Kuka, or any of the other big names in the industry. Each offers online learning courses and/or free libraries that you can access to learn at your own pace.

If you’re interested in more general courses or basic PLC, HMI, or robotics instruction, EdX and Udemy both offer various engineering courses that are cheap or even free. Software courses for LabVIEW, Wonderware, and Ignition are also popular.

With the field of automation rapidly converging with IT, you may also want to consider pursuing certifications that will set you up well for the future. Comptia Network+/A+ (for computers and networking), CISCO (for networking), MS SQL (how to work with and extract data from SQL databases), and VMWare (virtual servers) are just some to think about.

If you’re planning to seek a project management role, you should focus on earning a PMP (Project Management Professional) certification. In addition, taking an AutoCAD Electrical course will allow you to create or modify drawings yourself instead of outsourcing that work.

If you’re thinking of making a career move, or have no viable alternative due to the pandemic, you should enroll in a resume-writing or interview-prepping workshop. The knowledge you gain there and from other relevant resources will help you get your job search off to a good start.

Experiment with side businesses

You might not want to think about giving up on returning to the position from which you’ve been furloughed, but that doesn’t mean you can’t work at all. Your free time is your own, so why not adopt an entrepreneurial spirit and pursue any side business that catches your interest? If you can keep the cost down then you won’t take on much risk, and you can win regardless of the outcome: if you make some money, that’s great, and if you don’t, you’ll still learn from it.

The ecommerce industry in particular is doing exceptionally well in the midst of these tricky circumstances, with demand for many products increasing and delivery services still functioning quite effectively. Models like fulfillment outsourcing allow you to sell without taking on any stock, and you don’t even need your own store: you can actually sell through a third-party marketplace like Amazon or eBay, meaning you don’t even need to pay for an ecommerce website.

The margins when using fulfillment outsourcing aren’t great, and using a 3rd party marketplace will eat into them further, but even if you  make no sales or very little profit along the way, you’ll learn about curating products, writing marketing copy, and many other useful things.

Network within your industry

You can’t go to traditional networking events at the moment, which is unfortunate, but that doesn’t mean you can’t network at all. In fact, given that most people are currently in the same position, you might find it easier to network within your industry. If you’re curious about what you need to reach the next level of your profession, reach out to more senior professionals with some questions: they’ll probably be happy to spend some time talking to you.

You can also make use of online communities to ask questions, contribute, and form relationships that could prove very fruitful down the line. One popular platform you are likely familiar with is LinkedIn. This easy-to-use social network for professionals will allow you to rekindle dormant connections and interact with new people.

Conveniently, you can also use your LinkedIn profile as an online resume, so be sure to keep it updated with all of your work experience and accomplishments. With many stay-at-home orders in place, recent weeks have inevitably seen a substantial influx of fresh faces on LinkedIn, making this the perfect time to grab attention by beefing up your digital presence and doing what you can to expand your professional circle. After all, even if your job is secure now, it’s always sensible to keep your network alive and take note of new opportunities in your field.

When you’re networking, it’s vital to be helpful and focus on engagement. Introduce connections to one another. Share content you think people in your network will enjoy or find interesting. Acknowledge useful posts by liking them and commenting on them, then use direct messaging to start conversations with the authors.

Other online communities worth considering include Reddit and Quora: the former has myriad business subreddits, so there’s sure to be something that can help you, and the latter is a good place to share insight and establish yourself as an expert.

You shouldn’t spend a lot of time answering Quora queries on topics you don’t know very well, of course, but if you do possess some expertise then you might as well be proactive in showcasing it. If nothing else, it could do wonders for your SEO if you have some in-depth industry answers linked to your name.

It’s understandable if you’re worried during this time, but it’s all too easy to fall into a rut, and that isn’t something that will help your career in the long run. Instead of just sitting around watching TV, take the bull by the horns and start developing your skills and enhancing your personal brand. It’s a good investment in your future.

Rodney LawAbout the Author:

Rodney Laws is an ecommerce expert with over a decade of experience in building online businesses. He’s worked with the biggest platforms in the world, making him the perfect person to offer advice on which platform you should use to build your website. Check out his reviews on EcommercePlatforms.io and you’ll find practical tips that you can use to build the best online store for your business.

Connect with him on Twitter @EcomPlatformsio.