How to grow being off work

If you're reading this, the chances are you have some free time. Whether you are furloughed, in between jobs or work reduced hours you could use this time to learn a new skill or plan your career. I also recommend staying in touch with the industry and catch up with recent developments.

Obviously, if you have any health issues or there are people you need to take care of - focus on that. Be aware of your mental health too. Maybe you've been overworked or haven't had any holiday in a while. Take care of yourself first, avoid burnout and make yourself ready for progress.

It's certainly a good idea to have something to look forward to. The benefits of goals aren't in achieving them, it’s that they give us direction and meaning.

While you're not on the job, you're not gaining any experience. You wouldn't want to stay behind those who use this time productively, especially that it appears the job market will get more competitive soon.

Practicing brewing and playing with your equipment are a great way to keep in touch with coffee. Personally, I cranked up many hours doing at home cuppings, experimenting and refracting hundreds of brews. But nothing has a greater impact than a solid plan to reach your aspirations.

Career plan

Below I will outline the full-on program you can take, but you can cherry-pick particular steps if you like. Every little helps, but if you've lost your job or are looking for a promotion, you shouldn't leave it up to chance. Do as much as you can!

There are lots of links in the text - click them! 

Analyse your skills
A SWOT analysis might be a bit of an overkill, but it's worth the effort if you need a solid Personal Development Plan. A simpler option is to take a piece of paper and write down all your skills (as well as their level) and accomplishments. Pay attention to both coffee skills and non-coffee skills.


Coffee skills:
1. Latte art (7 stack tulip, heart, rosetta, swan, phoenix mastered)
2. Sensory skills (SCA Sensory Intermediate)
3. Dial-in (getting 3.0 balance score within 15 min using less than 250g of coffee)
4. Basic maintenance (cleaning grinders, changing seals)
5. Roasting

Non-coffee skills:
1. Management (feedback, coaching, delegation, hiring, team-building)
2. Excel (ECDL Advanced)
3. Public speaking (audiences up to 50 people, using props and slides, demonstration)
4. Video-making (shooting, editing)
5. Social media marketing (content marketing, paid campaigns)

Add details, equipment/software you've used, certifications, courses, finished projects, quantify what you can.

What's your ambition or potential?
Now take a second piece of paper (or use the other side) and write down the skills that you need to be where you want. Use these questions to guide you:
What do you enjoy doing? What do you want to get better at? What do you think you can become good at? Is there a job you want to do?

It's good to reach out to friends, colleagues or even your boss to find the answers. Figuring out these things takes time, let it dwell for some time if you don't arrive at the answer immediately.

Skill gap
After you have both lists ready, you can identify the skill gap. Let me show you the way I would do it.

Let's assume you a head barista looking to become a wholesale trainer.

First off, get the list of skills that you need. It's a good idea to find a job advert and take it from there.

Wholesale trainer skills:
Be able to demonstrate an in-depth knowledge of extraction theory principles and milk preparation
Be able to create a written curriculum
Have excellent presentation skills
Be organised and responsible for time management
Have a good working knowledge of equipment, with some maintenance skills
Great interpersonal skills
If you have SCA qualifications this is desirable, but not essential
Good written and spoken English skills
Must have a full UK driving licence

Put this list next to your current skillset.

Current skillset:
Good understanding of extraction theory
Creating rota for the shop
Grinders cleaning
Good customer service
SCA Barista Intermediate
Creating espresso and batch brew recipes
Use of refractometer

And compare. Make yourself feel good by listing out the overlapping ones. Ask yourself if you need to further develop any of these to increase your chances.

Overlapping skills:
Extraction/ milk knowledge
Organisation and time management (rota)
Interpersonal skills (customer service)
English skills
SCA skills - it's worth getting Professional level and AST qualification in this example

The most important part though is the missing link. That's where you will put most of your efforts.

Skill gap:
Creating curriculum - writing skills are there, but it's more about the structure, that could be learned quickly through google search and a bit of practice on imaginary courses
Presentation skills - being familiar with being on display and talking to people helps, but a couple of Toastmasters sessions, getting familiar with the use of slideshows, props and demonstration will create the backbone of this role
Driving license - sign up for the course asap
Technical skills - knowing well how espresso machine works might help you answer a tricky question, make sure you know all basic maintenance too - YouTube is a good resource, but ask the company's engineer too

Anything else worth adding?

The more 'coffee knowledge' you have, the easier it is to create training outlines and answer trainee's questions. Read coffee books or blogs, sign up for an online course, compete (if possible).

You will probably write much more professional emails and spend time in meetings. Learning basic business etiquette will go a long way.

Study different ways of learning. People engage and react in different ways. Get familiar with the Honey & Mumford test and learning styles.

Oh, and don't forget about projectors/ laptops. Technical issues can ruin the session. Figure out how to quickly terminate problems, but also be prepared to roll without the slides.

The list is not exhaustive, but I hope it gives you a clear picture of how to tackle the model. To get the job you have to be the best candidate, it's not just about ticking the boxes. Even if you don't plan to apply for anything soon, it's a good idea to polish your cv - keep it one page, simple and black&white. I'd recommend making a sample cover letter too - include relevant accomplishments. You will be tweaking both later for specific job posting, but it will be 10min, not an hour.

Having established the skill gap, it's now time to close it. Some of the skills will require you to be on the job, at least in a trainee position. But there's plenty you can do at home, particularly from the 'non-coffee' list.

1. Coffee books - a separate post about coffee books is long overdue, I promise to change that soon. In the meantime look up the SCA store for reference. Ask friends, colleagues, your boss if they could lend you anything. Many companies have some resources hidden in the training space, office, storage room - ask for them!

2. Coffee blogs - my 3 favourite are written by Christopher Feran, Michael Cameron, Jonathan Gagné, but check out my new section Recommended Resources for specific articles. Many roasting or importing companies have a blog section, follow them.

3. Other coffee media: podcasts (TamperTantrum, Boss Barista, Filter Stories, Filtered Thoughts), YouTube (Re:co, Wrecking Ball, DRWakefield), Instagram (Rao, Hoos, SKLeng)

4. Learning platforms: Skillshare, Coursera, Future Learn, Duolingo, TED and many more, you never know what you stumble upon if you google things - I have spent hours on aquarium forums learning about water.

5. Career Advice - Career Tools - absolutely fantastic interviewing series, Manager Tools (for managers or wanna-be-managers) - I've never heard of a good management training in a coffee company, you don't need theory, but knowing effective models and behaviours will help a lot even if you're a head barista.

6. Learning how to learn (know your learning style), managing and improving your communication, emotional intelligence and mental health will be the best foundation to be a successful professional. Do not overlook it at the cost of hard coffee skills and knowledge!

Being off work is the best time to make yourself a more valuable professional. Doing that when you're not forced to, gives you the comfort to grow at your own pace. But having a bit of structure to it streamlines the process. It's also a fantastic time to get in touch with people from your network, I'm sure they'll be happy you did.

Title photo - brewing at home, notice I got a refractometer before upgrading my grinder :) #poorchoices
Writing - Photo by Helloquence on Unsplash
Bridge - Photo by Alex Azabache on Unsplash
Orange VST - learning how to dial in a cupping at a friend's house
Cupping - the first one I did (2015), I'm pretty sure it was Tap Coffee, Pact and Starbucks


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