It was heartbreaking to read about the despair some workers felt when car makers closed down their factories earlier this month. Workers were on average 50 years old, had spent 20 years working for one company, and felt they did not have the skills to find work elsewhere.
While it is true that manufacturing in Australia is in decline, everybody has transferable skills – those that are developed across the lifespan in both work and non-work settings. Being able to use those skills in a different setting can open up a host of job opportunities, but first you must identify them and value them as much as a prospective employer might.
You definitely have transferable skills
Doing any job involves many skills over and above those required to accomplish core tasks, and some skills are useful in almost every job. Skills are different to attributes, and the good news is that you can learn and develop them. You may have acquired transferable skills by participating in the health and safety committee in your office, or by being a member of a social committee. Putting on a great Christmas party, for example, could help you into a career in events if you are able to connect the skills you learnt to an employer’s requirements.
Outside of work, you may have played a sport, or belonged to a school or community organisation, or be involved in a hobby. These will have given you transferable skills that you can bring to the workplace in a new role. Anybody who has kids will know that being a parent teaches many skills, such as patience, perseverance, and negotiation, to name just three. A parent returning to the workforce can name these skills to increase their likelihood of success.
Some things you might have learnt to do, such as fixing a computer or coding your own website, are technical skills, while others are ‘soft’ skills that will always be in demand, like the ability to communicate well, delegate tasks or resolve conflicts. Whether you have learnt these on the job in another workplace or in your non-working life, they are valuable skills that will give you the edge in any job application.
Why transferable skills matter
Your set of transferable skills will help you in different ways at different points in your career. When you are starting out, your time as netball captain or bass player in a band can show your prospective employer that you have good team skills and can co-operate with others. Your part-time job in a supermarket demonstrates that you know about customer service, and even the hours spent playing DOTA will have taught you about teamwork and cooperation.
For those who are looking to change careers, transferable skills are crucial. Being able to research and analyse, for example, transfers well from an academic job to a range of roles in a commercial enterprise.
Anybody re-entering the workforce after a break will need to call on their transferable skills as many occupation-based skills will have become obsolete. Even if all the organisation’s billing is now automated or outsourced, the ability to work magic with a spreadsheet still has a range of applications.
What are your transferable skills?
Take some time to make a list of your transferable skills and how they can be helpful to you in your future career. Do you know a second or a third language? That can be a huge advantage in today’s globalised workplace. Are you a writer in your spare time? Or are you really good at setting goals and motivating people in your running group?
Once you have listed them, think about how you can use them. It may be to help you write a good resume, or to identify career opportunities you hadn’t considered. Your list might reveal gaps in your skills that you could address with a short course or on-the-job training.
When you are applying for a job, the position description will contain a list of the skills the employer is looking for. Match your transferable skills to the requirements of the position, with a specific example. If, for instance, you co-ordinated the fete at your child’s school and you are applying for a role involving project management, link the skills you used to run the event with the requirements to be able to lead a team, communicate and manage risk. Use your cover letter to explain how your transferable skills match the requirements of the job description.
Here are some of the most in-demand transferable skills. How many do you have?
Interpersonal skills: relate well to others • motivates others • good at resolving conflict • team player
Organisational skills: setting and meeting goals • time management • following up • meeting deadlines • planning
Leadership skills: team building • delegating • innovative • motivating • decision-making • strategic thinking
Communication skills: presentation • simplifying • writing and editing • persuading • teaching
You can work at the skills you have and learn new ones, either by informal learning in your free time or with a mentor, or by enrolling in short courses, webinars and workplace learning programs.
Managers can support their teams by encouraging and sponsoring members to take courses in areas that will both add to their transferable skills and make them more effective team members.
Document what you learn and how it might transfer into a different role than the one you have now. And be ready to use your transferable skills in a new setting when the time is right.