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A question of skills


One of the top questions I get asked is about transferable skills and how to identify them.  This is of interest to anyone that wants to make any kind of change in their career.  Also of interest, and another common question, is what skills we need to be developing for our future career goals or the new world of work.

Transferable Skills

A good definition of transferable skills is those skills that you already possess that you can take with you and apply to a new kind of career.  We panic about transferable skills because we tend to think about our job-specific skills as all important (take a look at my article on sunk cost fallacy).

Let’s say that you want to move out of HR.  You focus on the HR-specific elements of the role like knowledge of employment law, knowledge of specific HR software, experience of how to conduct a disciplinary procedure, etc.  You’ll notice here that I haven’t once mentioned skills.  I’ve mentioned knowledge and experience.  So, what is a transferable skill?

There is a plethora of “transferable skills lists” on the internet.  What is common between them is that they tend to consist of soft skills rather than hard skills.  Examples are: teamwork, leadership, personal motivation, organisation, time management, listening, writing, verbal communication, research and analytical skills, numeracy, personal development, general IT skills.

I don’t know about you, but I notice three things about a list like this:

  1. that I possess most of these skills;
  2. that those I’m not sure about, I can probably learn quite quickly and
  3. quite a few of them are very close to …. drum roll …. strengths!!

That’s right!  It is likely the things that are innate within us that are the valuable, transferable elements of ourselves.  Things we take with us like: rapport building, listening, storytelling, creativity, etc.

Future Skills

Sitting alongside this idea of transferable skills is the requirement for new skills that will be required in the future.  The fear factor for many here is that they will all be technology skills.  Not so.  I took great heart from this article from the World Economic Forum. 

Whilst the WEF state that 50% of workers will need upskilling by 2025, due to the “double-disruption” of COVID-19 and increasing automation, there is good news in terms of which will be the most required skills.

In the Top 10 skills for 2025, half of them are problem solving skills, two of them are self-management skills, one is interpersonal and (only) two are about technology use and development.

What is more, when you read the list you will probably already have a good few of these skills and could quite quickly upskill the others.  In fact, Coursera (an online learning platform) says that some of these skills can be acquired in 1 – 2 months and pretty much all of them can be acquired within 5 months. 

The data from Coursera and LinkedIn suggest that 94% of employers now expect people to acquire these new skills on the job.  So, you probably won’t even have to invest in the learning yourself.

What to do now

  1. Make yourself a bank of transferable skills.Use a Google list of transferable skills and write down all the skills (not knowledge) that you would bring with you to a new role.
  2. Look at your Strengths Profile and identify all the strengths that you would also transfer to a new role.Add these to your bank of transferable skills.
  3. Make a list of new skills you’d like to learn and plan how and when you will do that.

I am sure that you will now have a good list of skills and a mini-learning plan for yourself.  Remember, nothing is ever wasted; you have so much to bring; you just need to stop and remind yourself every now and again.

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