Carrying on from the ‘Learning to maintain your Employability Skills‘ we now look in more detail at what each mean:
1. Good general literacy skills
It seems obvious, but there is a need to be able to read and write to a reasonable standard within a business environment. This doesn’t mean that you can say you have authored a book, but you need to be able to understand the meaning of sentences and to be able to construct your own well structured sentences. Spelling, punctuation and grammar are important areas, but that doesn’t mean to say you need to know all the words in a dictionary or to have in depth grammatical knowledge. Employers are looking for a general level of literacy skills as this is essential if you are to be able to communicate effectively with others; irrespective of the type of communication.
Being able to compose an email, letter, a note from a telephone call you have taken, log an instance of a customers query or complaint, writing a short report, taking minutes of meetings, preparing a short article for the company web site or material for marketing and publicity all requires a general level of literacy. It doesn’t take long to quickly find a typo or spelling error or see where a word has been used totally out of context, this can result in bad publicity for a company.
If you did not perform well at school then there are plenty of ways to help you to gain a suitable level of literacy. One obvious way is to take a course, however, if this isn’t a suitable option then there are other ways which can significantly improve your literacy skills.
Oxford Dictionaries provide an excellent resource to help in improve your writing skills and cover punctuation, spelling, grammar, practical writing, improve your English and abbreviations.
The BBC’s Skillswise site also provides comprehensive resources for reading, writing, spelling, speaking and listening, word grammar and sentence grammar.
The web site for the Skills Workshop provides lots of examples that you can practice to develop your literacy skills.
2. Good general numeracy skills
We nearly all deal with figures on an everyday basis, buying lunch or goods from the Internet, retail shopping or the weekly food shop. A solid foundation in handling money transactions will not only help you manage your own budget but makes you much more comfortable with handling figures in general.
Having a good grasp of figures can demonstrate that you should be able to handle spreadsheet figures (even if this means training in the software), ordering of stationery and other items, filling in expense forms or time sheets, analysing research data, calculating material application rates or materials ordering for projects.
The BBC’s Skillswise site also provides comprehensive resources for numbers, calculation, percent and fractions, measuring, shapes and graphs; whilst Skills Workshop provides lots of examples that you can practice to develop your numeracy skills.
3. Team working skills
Most jobs require you to work with other people. Employers will usually want someone to be able to demonstrate that they can get along with other people to maintain harmony amongst employees.
People within an organisation will have there own particular area of interest and specialism. Being able to discuss ideas with a group of people so that the company gets the most out of everyone is an important aspect of team working.
In the modern working environment few people can carry out their job effectively without the involvement of several other people along the way. If you can show that you are able to work well with others then this will contribute to improving your effectiveness but also that of the team and organisation. Within a team situation it is important that everyone is able to contribute to the team and that others listen to what they have to say. Having an ability to consider what others have said, reflect on suitable options and influence decisions can also provide an employer with an indication of your leadership skills.
Disruption amongst employees can incur unnecessary cost to an employer through reduced productivity, increased employee illness and possible further recruitment if staff leave.
You will need to show you can help others, individually and helping out for the benefit of the team and also ask for help where required. Being able to build and maintain working relationships is an important part of a successful team and organisation.
Within a learning environment, the ability to be a team player is still relevant because you may work on a project or assignment with one or more people. Being able to work together will make it much easier for everyone to achieve the end result; which is usually to pass the assessment requirements at the end of the day.
One other aspect of being a team player that should not be overlooked is that you can build friendships, which extend beyond the workplace. All of this can help you to maintain and improve your social life and also to possibly gain new interests in life. Make the employability skill of being a team player something that works for you outside of the workplace as well.
4. Communication skills
Communicating with others, whether customers or work colleagues, is essential for the smooth running of an organisation. If you can’t communicate properly then it will be very difficult for anyone to understand you. Knowing your target audience will allow you to be able to amend your message appropriately; there is little point using technical academic language when you want to communicate a simple concept to the general public who have been identified as your customers.
For a job situation, employers will usually form a strong opinion of your spoken and written communication skills in your application form as well as the dialogue you strike up during an interview (assuming you manage to get that far).
To communicate opinions, ideas and information to others there is a need to speak clearly to ensure the person receiving your message does not need to ask you to repeat it due to a lack of clarify in how you say it.
Listening is a key communication skill; you will need to be able to listen carefully to others so that you can understand what their requirements are or what information is that they are passing on to you.
In addition to being able to speak clearly you may also need to be able to confirm that you have understood what a customer is asking or enquiring about. This is an important skill to be have, as a poorly communicated confirmation of what you think a customer is requiring (essentially you have misunderstood) can put a customer off and lose business.
Written communication can be through letters, reports, leaflets for marketing purposes, e-mail, tweets, company website updates or company Facebook updates. The presentation of numbers in a graphical form helps to identify the main points that you want to convey from the mass of data, which are encountered within a business environment. Being able to identify trends and focussing on the ‘main picture’ rather than getting bogged down in a mass of unintelligible data is a useful skill that is sought after by employers.
Getting your message across in a clear and concise way requires a good grasp of grammar and punctuation. One exception to this is if written communication is by the use of mobile phone text messaging / web app text messaging; KWIM, CYL. (Know What I Mean, See You Later).
Organisations will often have a house style which means that outgoing written communication will be presented within a certain format, font and style.
Sign language (British Deaf Association: British Sign Language) may also be a desirable communication requirement in some organisations. It is important to know who the target audience are to be to enable you to make your communication effective.
Communicating in other languages is a skill that can significantly add value to your employability prospects, especially if the organisations you want to work for are involved in transactions or dealings outside of the UK, (see Foreign Languages).
5. Self-Management skills
Can you show that you can attend meetings on time, keep to scheduled tea and lunch breaks, complete tasks on time (for example homework or assignments if in education or training, or work tasks if already in employment) and meet deadlines to contribute to effective operations.
To demonstrate self-management skills you would expand on your chosen example by indicating how often you achieve deadlines:
- Always (this might actually be seen as a little too bold a statement to make; does anything really always work out as planned?);
- Mostly (occasional targets had to be reviewed as external pressures had an impact on the original planned target; nice one, more realistic, but very positive);
- Occasionally (you would need to come up with some good reasons why deadlines are only occasionally met – maybe this is normal and expected within certain working environments, so try and find out what the norm is) or;
- Rarely / never; in this case it is probably best to emphasise some other transferable skills or get some practice at good self-management.Good time management skills contribute to efficiency and effectiveness; within a learning environment or workplace this is a definite positive attribute and contributes to a smooth operation.
The following 5 aren’t in any particular order, just that typically they mostly appear within a top 10 of employer desirables for an employee:
6. Business and organisational awareness
This includes having an understanding of the organisation you are interested in.
If you are to enter into a career or start employment within an industry sector, it is usually a good idea to have an idea of what is involved in that industry sector. There’s little point having a fanciful notion of an industry only to find it doesn’t live up to your expectations.
If you are completing an application form, or being asked to attend an interview, it really is essential that you do some background research on the industry sector and also the organisation that you are applying for a job. Employers expect a potential employee to have a reasonable idea of what they are involved with, including potential competitors and how an individual might be able to contribute to the success of the organisation.
One common complaint from employers is that potential employees often turn up for interview without having found out anything about their company. This shows a lack of many transferable skills including a lack of interest, initiative, research ability, problem solving, business awareness, planning, and decision making, to greater or lesser extents. These potential employees do not often turn into an employee.
The individual who does this elementary research, basically spending about an hour online should provide enough background information to help impress a potential employer.
7. Problem solving skills
How do you solve a problem? Gather the facts, analyse the problem and come up with one or more solutions. Employers like to be able to see solutions that help drive a business forward, not problems that would need their constant input.
Can you demonstrate some good examples of problems you have solved? They don’t have to be particularly large projects but can be small problems which have affected the smooth running of a task and that the solution improved the situation (such as efficiency and effectiveness) as a result of your problem solving skills.
Many problems are small issues that need resolving; they do not need to be such mind-boggling things such as ‘How did life begin?’.
The typical problem that will be encountered within the workplace will be things like how to best present information to customers; the ICT system needs to be tweaked to support an improved part of a process; what then is required from the computer coders to make the system look right from a users perspective? A query from a customer has arisen which isn’t covered by an existing process; can you think of how their query can be answered by thinking just outside of the defined box?
8. Information Technology use
IT (well, it’s really ICT – Information Communication Technology) is everywhere – mobile phone technology, web and mobile apps, tablet computing, laptops, desktops, software applications – World Wide Web (Internet) browsers, word processors, spreadsheets and email are probably the most commonly used within the workplace and for formal learning.
Microsoft Office is the traditional software package within organisations, but there is lots of other software available that can be just as useful. The use of databases may prove more difficult to evidence as these can be more specialist, however, the concepts of a database can be illustrated through the use of online shopping. Other specialist software that you might use could include web page creation, graphics packages, tax / accounting software, video editing, audio editing, presentation, publishing, or communications software.
There can be a huge range of possibilities. You can download and use a lot of open source software to cover most requirements.
The use of cloud computing may be a skill you can highlight (iTunes, Amazon, Google all provide free storage and other cloud services) along with competency in different operating systems such as Windows, iOS and Android.
Make sure that you have an understanding of the Data Protection Act / General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) because in many organisations you may have access to a range of personal information about people. Knowing what information you can, or cannot, pass on to others will provide a potential employer with greater confidence in your abilities as a responsible employee and especially one who has good business awareness.
9. Adaptable and Flexible
The work environment is in constant flux, so keeping up to date with current affairs to see how political decisions and the economy can affect the working environment will help to provide some background information on what sort of adaptability might be needed.
Being adaptable or flexible involves being able to change your plans and help others if required, or to change your tasks as directed by a line manager. Modern business needs to be flexible to adapt changing situations, for example, if computer systems become temporarily out of action, what else can you do to help the business out? Or, would you sit rigidly in your chair waiting for a couple of hours until the system problem has been fixed?
Annual leave and illness are part of everyday life in a business; are you one of these people that stick rigidly to your job description or who is prepared to adapt to the current situation to help out as needed? Obviously this would have to be within your capabilities, but usually a flexibility to help with more routine and not too complex tasks would be the typical request. In a way it’s a bit like the old-fashion adage of ‘we are all in it together’ and so have to pull together at certain times to help each other out.
Are you able to work, occasionally if requested, outside of the normal working hours or at a different location? This might be to help in getting an order out on time to a customer, or attending a training event or marketing activity. Normally, the type of adaptability and flexibility wanted from an employer is not that of working in a different part of the country or working unreasonable hours, it’s just that occasionally unexpected events occur and they would like staff to be able to help the business in maintaining the service it provides.
An employer with a positive attitude to staff will also have a flexible ‘give and take’ approach to these situations; the motivation for an employee to be adaptable and flexible may be satisfied by the promotion of a continuous development programme within an organisation.
An employer who does not understand the motivational requirements of employees will find a degree of resistance to flexibility, although it is probably not a good idea to express this last point at a job interview.
10. Planning and prioritising
This skill is related to the self-management employability skill, but is sometimes included as a separate attribute to emphasise external pressures on an individual and how manage these through good planning skills and the ability to prioritise tasks.
Can you show how you have managed to prioritise tasks and also how you have changed the priority of a task due to the changing work environment or due to a change in learning requirements? An example might be given of how changes that occurred in weather conditions required you to change the activity of surveying a site to that of staying in the office to continue with another report.
Alternatively, a more team-based example might be that of stopping what you were doing to help a colleague get important documentations photocopied, packaged and posted out by the last post.
Forward planning, where you think about the consequences of your activities and the sequence they are carried out in will help an organisation manage their resources more effectively and efficiently.
If you have a plan of how you carry out your regular activities you are able to demonstrate you have an understanding of the needs of the business. From the plan you will be able to identify the critical tasks, those that have to be done by a certain time, and those that could be put back without having too much of an impact on business operations. You are showing that you can prioritise by being well informed, you are not just having a guess and hoping for the best.
The transferable skills of prioritising, adapting to change and flexibility can often be captured in the statement that appears in person specifications as ‘Able to work under pressure to tight deadlines’.
Well, that’s my take on these top ten employability skills and the next article will provide an interpretation of the remaining ones which I identified in the previous article.
Chris Gray, 30th March 2019