Prepare for Tomorrow’s Jobs

Posted by Kathleen Smith

soft skillsMany of us worry whether we will have good jobs in the future. Many news articles share that corporations are worried about the lack of college students pursuing degrees in math and science — especially advanced degrees — as well as the lack of soft skills. Technical experts who have good soft skills will be needed as long as it is possible to forecast. There will always be jobs which require customer interaction and understanding, and the ability to work well in a team environment.

What does this mean to you? First, that your technical skills are important. You should develop your expertise and maintain currency with new technology as appropriate to your profession.

But these are typically not the key to higher level opportunities for most people. To ensure your future, you need to be able to communicate well, to work effectively with a wide range of people, and to lead a team.

Common Competencies

Here is a short list of common competencies needed in many jobs. Use this as a checklist. Rate yourself and add appropriate items to your personal development plan.

  1. Customer Service–understands and meets customer needs fully
  2. Interpersonal Skills–deals with a diverse range of people effectively
  3. Planning–plans and organizes own and others’ work to meet requirements
  4. Written communications–writes clearly, identifies critical information needed and presents it to achieve desired goals
  5. Oral communications–speaks clearly and effectively, tailors message to audience needs to achieve understanding, presents well to groups.
  6. Listening skills–listens intently to understand others’ ideas and views
  7. Integrity–recognized for positive ethical approach, behaves consistently with values
  8. Initiative–self-starter, makes good suggestions
  9. Flexibility–deals with change or ambiguity without increasing stress or creating additional problems
  10. Problem-solving–effectively assesses and resolves problems
  11. Coping skills–handles difficult situations and people effectively
  12. Teamwork–works well with others to achieve desired results
  13. Leadership–creates effective teamwork, encourages others to achieve
  14. Conflict resolution–able to identify underlying problem, reach out to others involved, offer solutions for differences

So what do you do with this list? Start by doing your own personal soft skills/competencies audit:

  • Which of these do you need in your current job?
  • What do you know about the need?
  • How would you evaluate yourself on each skill you need?
  • How would your boss evaluate you on each?

Add to this an assessment of the competencies needed for other positions which interest you. Look at job descriptions to consider both promotions within your organization and external opportunities.

Once you have assessed your current competencies versus needed ones, you can assess whether you are ready to grow new skills. Traditionally many technical employees have embraced new technical skills, but not soft skills. As with any change, you need to be aware of your readiness to change as well as knowing what you want to achieve.

OK, you have read this far and you think you are ready to improve your skills to achieve a better future. Now what?

Step 1. Develop a plan

  • Pick one competency you want to work on.
  • Identify your goal and what steps are needed to achieve it. Keep the steps small but be specific.
  • Put in a timeframe
  • Identify how you will know you have achieved your goal. That is your measure of success.

Step 2. Ask others for help

Soft skills by their nature involve working with others, so you need others to help you develop yours. Share your plan with your boss, a mentor, or a talented co-worker and ask for their assistance. Find a person who does well what you want to learn. Model yourself after that individual and ask for advice/assistance. You need feedback as you make changes and you need opportunities to practice your new ideas.

Resources you can tap include:

  • Educational, developmental, or training opportunities at your work, classes at local schools and colleges
  • Meetings or seminars on the topic held by professional groups
  • Learn through doing–as a volunteer for a professional group or Meetup
  • Develop and practice these skills with a mentor or your boss
  • Online courses followed by practice with a friend or co-worker
  • Books on the topic, again followed by practice at work or in a volunteer group
  • Set up your own group of co-workers or friends to learn and practice with.

Step 3. Practice

At first you’re likely to feel awkward or self-conscious as you apply your new knowledge at work or at home. But you’ll notice that far more than others will. Tamp down your nervousness and plan to practice. Ask your co-workers, a mentor, or friend for feedback and specific information on what you did well and what still needs work. Take baby steps to get to your goal. Often keeping a record of what you have tried and what results you got will help you to keep going and to improve.

Step 4. Reward yourself

When you feel comfortable with your new skill–you did a presentation at work and got feedback that it was useful, or you contributed an idea that helped solve a customer’s demands, give yourself a pat on the back. Pick a reward — chocolate always works for me — and congratulate yourself. Then keep on using the new skill as needed.

Step 5. Tackle another area

No, it never ends. Not if you want to succeed at work or in life. Good research tells us that keeping our brains active learning new things and practicing new skills helps keep us healthy for the long term. A little history tells us few jobs ever existed that did not require learning new skills regularly. And none of us is ever ‘too good’ at most soft skills.


This entry was posted on Friday, December 02, 2016 4:38 pm

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