I recently wrote about the different types of skills you may have that can help with your reinvention. A key, but often overlooked, kind of skill are your core employability skills.
You can look at employability skills as being the Working 101 level of skills. These are the essentials required of every member of the workplace.
The problem is that not everybody has mastered these skills. You may have areas of weakness yourself. If you want to improve your income and move up to a better quality job, you first need to ensure that you are capable of mastering these core skills, however.
We regularly see reports in the New Zealand media about how employers can’t find sufficient good workers to fill positions. Alright, many of these positions are low-level rubbish jobs paying minimum wage. And the complaints are often made to politicians by firms wanting to be allowed to bring in (cheap) labour from overseas to do the work that most kiwis won’t touch.
But the main argument these employers and some politicians put forward is that the bulk of people currently unemployed lack these essential employability skills. Until you can master these skills, you are effectively unemployable in the current job market.
Now you may have excellent job skills in some of these areas, but weaknesses in others. For instance, many people who are new immigrants to New Zealand are hard workers with drive, flexibility, organisation skills, and most of the rest. They may lack English communication skills until they have had time to improve them. In other cases, you may have natural abilities in some areas, but find other skills more challenging.
Whatever your personal situation, you first need to work on improving your weakest employability skills before you should begin working on improving specialist and job-related skills.
Here are the most essential employability skills you should concentrate on mastering.
1. Having a Positive Attitude With Everything You Do
Life can feel harsh at times. We all have days when we think that we should never get out of bed. I have a mate who ended up back in jail because he decided that life was too hard outside, expecting him to make difficult decisions and having to sort out the logistics of everyday living.
But if you are to succeed at any work, you need to be able to put on a bright face. Sure, the current job may seem repetitive, boring, low paid, and not relevant at moving you to a better future. Yet the days seem to go quicker if you are happy, and even dead-end jobs done with conviction help show future employers that you are willing to give things a go. The hours you spend digging ditches, cleaning toilets, or saying “Do you want fries with that” at your local takeaway, will ultimately help you get that challenging, enjoyable high paying position you crave.
Nobody wants to be around a grump or somebody they perceive as a troublemaker.
I once wrote about resilience in How Great Is Your Bouncebackability? Both resilience and bouncebackability can be defined as being “the capacity to recover quickly from a setback”.
Resilient people don’t easily give up. No matter how bad a situation they find themselves in, they do their best to move forwards and improve things.
For example, if you are getting “Not Achieved” grades at school of failing your university papers, a resilient person won’t give up. Instead, you do what you can to improve the situation and then resit the assessment at a future date. Even if that means repeating the course next year!
Resilience also means that you know when to ask for help. There is no value in letting your pride get in the way. If you can’t do something, admit it, and ask for assistance. Just keep on trying.
3. Written and Oral Communication Skills
Few jobs require no communication. Even if you don’t work in a public position, you usually have to communicate with somebody during your workday.
Not all jobs involve writing, but there is some level of literacy needed for most positions.
If you are in a customer service role, you have to be able to speak clearly make yourself understood without any effort on the customer’s part.
Another side of this is your ability to pitch your communication appropriately. For instance, you shouldn’t swear in most jobs, or use sexist or racist language.
Don’t forget about the importance of listening, either. Communication is two-way. You won’t last very long at McDonald’s if you don’t listen to the customers’ orders and as a result make the wrong burgers.
Employers also expect you to be able to ask questions when you are uncertain about anything.
4. Ability to Work in a Team
If you played sport at school, you probably discovered the importance of a team working together. A football team isn’t going to win many games if every player tries to make a solo run to score the winning goal. You each have a part in an organisation, and it’s essential that you work together as a whole.
You will always perform better if everybody helps each other and works together. Employers don’t look favourably on “lone wolves” who can’t work with others.
Some jobs may appear to be solo. For instance, I spent 26 years as a teacher. In theory, I taught alone in my classroom.
Yet I was always part of a team. Other teachers taught in my department. We worked together to ensure that the lessons were planned, duties were carried out, and that there was always a body in front of a class. At times, I needed help in my own weak areas (like helping the kids use graphical programs in the computer labs), and I knew I could always depend on other members of my team to give assistance. In turn, I would help them when they needed support.
No matter what job you have, you can consider it your profession. Therefore it is crucial that you always act professionally. There are certain standards of behaviour employers expect in any workplace.
They need to rely on you to turn up at the start of your workday or shift. Employers expect that you will act safely, without endangering yourself or anybody else. They assume that you will turn up in a state where you can work properly – for instance, you don’t turn up drunk or under the influence of drugs.
Employers also expect that you can control how you behave at work. You don’t have sudden outbursts of violence or abusive behaviour. If you are in a customer-facing role, an employer expects that you won’t embarrass the firm.
Similarly, employers expect that you will turn up wearing the right kinds of clothing (a uniform if required) and that you bring any tools or equipment needed for you to do your job.
Basically, an employer wants to know that they can rely on you to do your work and that you aren’t going to let them down with unexpected surprises.
6. Problem Solving and Decision-making Skills
In some ways, it can be harder to learn problem-solving and decision-making skills than any of the other essential skills I have listed here. To an extent, it depends on you having a logical brain. But it also connects to your ability to learn from your mistakes. Do you change your actions as a result of failure, or do you keep repeating the same mistakes over and over again?
Many people struggle with decision-making. To an extent, this comes down to confidence in yourself. Sure, you may make the wrong choice this time. But learn from that, and make a better decision at the next opportunity.
Often you need to research first, to discover all the possible options when you have a decision to make. It’s a good idea to look at the pros and cons of every opportunity and then choose the one that provides the most benefit for the least cost.
The word “cost” here, doesn’t have to be a money amount. It is merely any negative factors connected with a choice you have to make. For instance, the cost of something may be the amount of your time it takes up.
7. Having a Willingness to Learn
One of the greatest lessons you learn through life is that you don’t, and never will know everything. You continue to learn throughout your entire life.
Or at least, you should. The people who struggle most to hold down jobs are often the people who think they know it all. They resist any chance to learn more.
You may feel defensive if somebody suggests that you need to improve something. But you really should think of it as a challenge. Hey, I’m 55, and I still learn something new every day.
One of my hardest jobs as a teacher was with students who sulked when I made suggestions for improvement. I was not trying to insult them. I was merely pointing them in the directions where they should focus their learning.
Even worse were parents who bristled if you dared suggest their little darlings weren’t perfect. I hate to think how those kids have ended up today. They were sabotaged by their own parents.
Imagine how things would be with top sports teams, such as the All Blacks if the players ignored their coaches’ suggestions on how to improve their play.
If you can master these seven essential skills, you are well on the way to improving your position in life. You can then turn your attention to improving job-specific and technical skills.
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