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Future proof your Career NZ Herald January 2014

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Writers at the turn of the century predicted a new career in which our future security would be dependent on developing key characteristics, specifically employability and resilience. They are still right. Employability has evolved to encompass a range of 21st century skills – self-direction to navigate change, adaptability to accept the challenges of change, inventive thinking for innovation and creativity, and continuous learning to manage the complexity of technology and globalisation, and keep up with new tasks.

But recent world-wide surveys tell us mastering complex work skills is not enough; there is a shortage of workers with highly desirable personal or ‘soft’ skills including the all-encompassing attribute of professionalism. Just an agreeable personality won’t do – these are skills to target and systematically develop, as they add significantly to your ability to work in a wide range of sectors or roles.

So if you want to be the highly employable worker, the successful self-employed business owner or contract worker, or all of these at various times, consider these:

Display professionalism
Develop the Professional You. This is the person who demonstrates increasing competence, good communication, integrity, high standards of work commitment and conduct, and a productive approach: it’s the whole package. Employers want the professional you at work, and they want you to leave the casual you at home. They want the productive you, not the social you. Become a true professional and you will raise your profile as a wanted worker.

Add value with advanced skills
Whatever you work at, aim to be very good at it and keep improving. Understand every craft has advanced skills and set about learning them. This alone will take you beyond the mediocre and into the ranks of talent. The pace of change will keep making demands, and your workplace will offer you learning opportunities and challenges. Don’t grumble, grab them. You benefit as you get to transfer those skills with you to new opportunities.

Regard learning as a way of being
Continuous learning is essential, and you can be proactive about this anywhere, anytime. Unless you are a successful entrepreneur, you will need qualifications or to upskill those you have. This is the era of new qualifications and credentials – if you already have sound experience, think about work-based qualifications that allow you to undertake projects that develop both you and your workplace. Online learning has never been more varied or accessible, take a look at MOOC courses ( Massive Open Online Courses.) Be proactive and self-directed – take that course before the work you want appears, and keep up at all costs with technology changes.

Improve your communication
Communication skills are becoming a deal breaker in employability. Silicon Valley employers wish their top engineers could do better in this area, so do trucking firms as their drivers become customer service representatives. Whatever industry you work in more options will be available if you are a skilled and confident communicator. Good customer service skills stand out because they are still so rare.

Raise your cultural intelligence
This has been defined as reshaping your thinking and your behaviours to be more skilled, flexible and appropriate in understanding and dealing with other cultures. In a world of global markets it is a huge career asset, and probably not given enough significance in our education systems. Be the person that can work productively with all groups; not the one that moans and blames the others. Sound advice for all workers, including tradesmen and politicians.

Brand yourself
Develop the reputation and personal brand you want. What do you want to be known for? You already have a reputation – make it the one you want. Your reputation now determines your future work. A reputation for competence, commitment and professionalism in your industry will generate future opportunities in your networks. By devising the personal brand you want, you can choose to practise those qualities daily.

Build career capital
You can easily check on your career vibrancy or stagnation by taking a minute to assess your current career capital – is it high, medium or low in these areas? Your knowledge capital is made up of your skills, knowledge, qualifications and experience, and accumulates by continuing investment in learning opportunities. Your connections or network capital is built through relationships. You can do this anywhere, anytime. Face to face, online, at work or at the pub – relationships provide the serendipity of careers – the unexpected opportunities that can change everything. Don’t forget to maintain your motivational capital – the vision of the life you want, your goals and aspirations, the way you want to use your craft. These are the drivers of a career you enjoy – check your status from time to time.

Understand resilience
This is the quality that helps you survive change and transitions. Much of it comes from career confidence – knowing what you have to offer, and how it might transfer beyond your current role to others. With a strong sense of employability assets and your career capital, you gain the self-belief and courage you need to face or make transitions or shifts. Self-belief comes from within, and it grows when you are clear about what you can do, and how your skills transfer to other options.

We all know now to expect and accept change, and the upside of change is we develop a much broader range of skills that allow mobility across roles and sectors when you need it. Don’t ignore those ‘soft skills’ and above all be adaptable – acquire the flexibility (and this is attitudinal) to change and grow as required. If you can do this, with an optimistic approach, you have the assets that help to future proof your career.

Dr Heather Carpenter is a Careers counsellor and consultant who specialises in promoting 21st century career management strategies. thecareermaze.com

Originally published on the NZ Herald website: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=11189728