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How to improve work skills at low or no cost and land that next job

20 December 2019

Jobs change and technology forces further change. Employees need to up-skill and re-skill both hard and soft skills. They also require truly flexible workplaces to adequately cope with their needs, including but not limited to caring duties. To sensibly meet these new workplace pressures, we need policies that meet the needs of all workers, equally.

Professor Marian Baird, Sydney University’s Professor of Gender and Employment Relations, notes in her recent survey on women and work a seismic shift in attitude: “Women are saying they are going to work until they are older than 60.”

The co-directors of Sydney University’s Women, Work and Leadership Research Group, Professors Baird and Rae Cooper, who released their Australian Women’s Working Futures Survey in 2018, believe that the traditional ways of analysing past behaviour and patterns, with the assumption that lifelong careers should be reserved for men only, is no longer viable.

Instead, our policies need to take into consideration that women will - from necessity and often desire - work longer, pursuing lifelong careers and forcing a rethink of workplace policy and conditions.

The survey found the most important factors facilitating career progress for female respondents were “having the right skills and qualifications (92 percent), having access to flexibility (90 percent), receiving paid leave to have and care for family (84 percent), and support and mentoring to develop leadership skills (83 percent)”.

Add to this the survey’s finding that women believe it is primarily up to individuals to develop their employment skills, with employers, colleges and universities, schools and the Government sharing secondary responsibility, and it’s evident this cohort knows what it needs when it comes to career progress and is personally interested in educating itself to facilitate progress.

Despite this recognition of the need to develop and maintain a relevant, current skill set, and the drive to do it, the survey found three out of five working women said they couldn’t access free or affordable training which was needed to boost their career.

There are low-cost ways to self-start developing soft and hard skills.

Hard skills are associated specifically with a job or task. Soft skills are not job specific and very necessary for the workplace. In the case of hard skills, we train and, if we’re lucky, continue to get training for these skills through our workplace either formally or informally.

We can often develop our soft skills through inexpensive – often free - avenues.

What are soft and hard skills?

Soft skills are traits like work ethic, organisation, communication, collaboration, leadership, critical thinking, creativity. Soft skills are not unique to a job but have become more and more important to employers.

Hard skills are abilities you learn usually at school and then post school in a tertiary or technical situation or on the job. Computer programming, journalism, financial forecasting, are examples of hard skills.

You need both sorts of skills in your skill sets. Skills are not talents and they can be learned.

The important thing to discern is which soft skills does your employer value. If you are going for a job, the skills the ad identifies as being important and for which the employer is looking must be addressed.

Analyse the ad. It will tell you what the employer values and wants in soft and hard skills when it comes to the position’s requirements: leadership, communication, creativity, punctuality, for example. Looking at the job ads in your industry can also help you establish what soft skills you need, as well as identify areas where you may need to acquire a skill, or further develop your soft skill set.

If you’re already working for a company, you can usually identify the skills the company prizes by looking at its stated values, company motto, company goals, job descriptions, etc. Once identified, you can start the process of developing the skills in your set.

Naming your skills: communicator, collaborator, problem solver, leader, etc. is one step. You need to prove them. Think through how you have used the skills and how you would show measurable accomplishments.

For example: someone who believes they are a communicator could say: “I am a communicator who has produced and had published four to five articles every month for the past year. These have received thousands of views online (use analytics to get data) and feedback from readers.”

Through measured achievement you prove your skill as a communicator.

If you can’t prove a skill successfully then it either may not exist in your set or it needs development. Proof points, such as the above, can be re-pointed to prove related soft skills. For example, diligence and attention to detail: five articles at 3000 words each equals 15,000 words of written communication using researched, attributable facts, correct grammar and spelling.

Another way to discover where your skills are in good shape - and where they are not - is to get feedback from a manager or someone who works with you. Be prepared to hear and take on board the good and the bad.

How and where can I develop my skills

In one word: online.

  • There are sites where you can practice your analytic skills; sites where you can refine your written and spoken communication skills; sites for learning about time management, etc., etc.
  • There are webinars, Ted Talks and You Tube about soft skills and how to develop them and hard skills.
  • There are articles you can read by experts and academics on skills and skill sets and ways to develop them.
  • If you admire someone, have a look at pieces by and about them for tips on how they have achieved success.
  • Browse resume writing sites for inspiration on what skills employees look for and how you can develop them.

The top tip: practice, practice, practice.

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