Changing Skills for the Workplace


The workplace is very different now.  It is characterized by one constant — change!.  Employment for a lifetime with one organization is a thing of the past for most people.  Today's worker can expect to change careers 3 or more times.  Formal education can no longer end with graduation from university:  today's worker must constantly quest for new learning just to stay even, let alone get ahead.  And now post pandemic there will be even more changes.

Preparing for entry into a new workplace will involve a number of strategies, the most important of which are making a commitment to the continual upgrading of your skills, on-going analysis of your skills set, and being able to match those skills with employer needs.   It will be important to consider the following:

Accept the fact that change is inevitable

Be flexible

Develop and be able to market strong “Transferable Skills”  –  skills such a communication, organization, analytical, problem-solving, research, and time management – all skills which may be used in any environment

Continually reassess and be able to market your skills

Accept that higher levels of education are going to be required and that on-going learning and training will be a way of life

Research career areas prior to making specific choices since occupations are changing and disappearing due to technological innovations, global competition and changing demographics

Continually increase your computer skills

Develop and/or maintain multiple languages

Explore opportunities with small to mid-sized organizations rather than depending on the large multinationals for employment

Develop your entrepreneurial skills – many people have begun to develop businesses either as their full time gig or their side hustle.

Fine tune specialized skills.  A skill is the ability to competently perform some dimension of a task.  Many skills are generalized and therefore transferable.  The building blocks of your career are skills which you acquire and polish to increasingly higher levels by working on projects and assignments for clients (employers) in many and varied settings.

Your skills set is a dynamic set of competencies that may contain skills that you are just acquiring, skills at which you have gained very good or excellent competency and skills that are no longer in demand.  You must be constantly watching for emerging skills and actively seek ways to acquire them.  It is also important to figure out which are the core skills (generally common to most work settings and hence transferable between them) and which are domain specific (usually higher level, more specialized skills associated with a particular work setting).  Once you know what the skills in demand are, you can assess whether or not you have them.  To make a valid claim for the possession of a skill, you must be able to demonstrate it with concrete examples from your experience.  You must be able to tell a story to an interviewer about an occasion when you used the skill to accomplish a goal.  If you cannot talk about a particular skill, then you cannot claim to have that skill.

Identifying which skills are contemporary is a research activity and can be as simple as reading current business magazines, the Careers sections of the local paper and the publications associated with your career of choice.  Think of this activity as a treasure hunt for clues as to which direction the skills profile in the employment market and in your chosen profession may be going.

For example:  the skills mix required to be a Career Services Professional as indicated in the “Journal of Career Planning and Employment” (1995) are:  presenting/teaching, programming (workshops and other forms of training), marketing, job market research, writing (workshop scrips, advertising copy, research reports, etc), information technology, and advising/counselling.  An additional skill required is adaptability, being able to adjust smoothly to changes in the career services profession.

You must plan to acquire skills which you do not have. 

This is done by an Action Plan that states the way to acquire the skill and a time frame.  The Action Plan must include both the specific tactic for acquiring the skill and the venue in which the opportunity is available.  It requires considerable footwork to find out where appropriate skill acquisition opportunities may lie and in what way the opportunity can be exploited to your advantage.  It may entail telephone inquiries, library research and networking.  The time-to-goal may be weeks or months.

Once you have developed your action plan, you must implement it.  Your goal is to have at least one descriptive example for each of your desired employment skills, leading to a strong employability skills profile.   If you can develop two or three examples for each, all the better.  Constantly be on the alert for opportunities to strengthen skills that are in demand.

Review your action plan outcomes. 

Were you able to acquire the skill you were seeking?  If not, why not?  Perhaps you set too short a time line or perhaps the source of the learning was unavailable.  Did you pursue the goal sincerely and with conviction?  Then consider your options:  a) if the goal was reasonable, recommit to it and try again; b) if the goal was unreasonable, change your Action Plan to make it reasonable; c) if the goal was unreasonable and no change will help, abandon that goal.  Beware of the self-fulfilling prophecy, however, if you think you can't do something, indeed you won't be able to do it!  Review your action plan on an ongoing basis, but once a year at a minimum.

Keep your resume updated.

You never know when you might need it in a hurry.  Every six months, take stock of what new skills you have learned and add them to your resume.  If you have taken some courses, add them as well.

Remember, you are in charge of your career.  You are the one who determines what it is you want to do.

Check out the following article by Angela Wills of Laptop Lifestyle YOUniversity on how her career changed over the years.

Fran Watson

Fran Watson, Career Counsellor

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