I’m often asked, “What are the top five skills a young adult should have?” In other words, what employability skills should we be teaching our kids and students? I suppose after many years of coaching and mentoring young adults, I likely rattle these off much like a tour guide on a tour bus. In case you’ve not had the opportunity to hear this lecture, read on. If you have, scroll on by – there’s nothing here to see… but I bet you won’t. The challenge is whittling down the list to just five, but let’s give it a try.
1 – Communications. Professionalism, timelines and conciseness in communications, regardless of the medium is non-negotiable. At Apprentice University, we teach a class in Professional Communications. We assert that you may be the smartest guy/gal in the room, top of your class and all that jazz… but if you cannot communicate professionally, you’ll be labeled second rate. And, contrary to the belief of many young adults, using your phone as a phone – as in a phone call – isn’t going away anytime soon.
2 – Timeliness. I’m often shocked at how many young adults do not manage their schedules with a calendar. Working from memory was acceptable in junior high, but as a young adult with demands on your time, scheduling conflicts, drive times, traffic delays, back to back meetings, etc., all place pressure on our schedules. Being timely in delivering a project, meeting attendance, phone calls, and so on, is crucial for one’s employability and career advancement. Timeliness in communications demonstrates respect for the other(s) and shows you’re paying attention. If you attended a school, or were homeschooled, and deadlines were mere suggestions – think again. Timing is crucial, absolutely crucial, when others are depending upon you.
3 – Technological Agility. I recently overheard a young adult – not one of our students at Apprentice University, by the way – say, “Better not let Mr. B. know you don’t know how to do that…” For certain, given my career in technology the last three decades, my expectations are probably higher than others when it comes to agility in using modern tools and technology. Regardless, the workplace assumes you’ve mastered tools common to the office – regardless of your career path. Whether you want to be a plumber, programmer or a policeman, you absolutely must master common technology tools found in an office.
4 – Critical Thinking. Few problems or opportunities present themselves with instructions. Understanding how to think critically about a problem helps to combat the absence of an instruction manual. We hear the phrase “critical thinking” all the time, but what exactly does such a process look like? Let’s explore.
- Defining the problem (or opportunity). A clear understanding of the problem being solved is half the battle. Albert Einstein is attributed to having said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”
- Divergent thinking. Imagining and brainstorming ideas to solve a problem starts with fresh thinking and considering all ways in which a problem might be resolved.
- Design thinking. Much has been written about design thinking and this little article certainly will not do it justice. For our purposes, we’ll reduce design thinking to the art of starting small and iteratively improving upon the previous attempts. At Apprentice University, we practice this skill routinely.
- Evaluation means measuring one’s results, learning from what worked and what didn’t and adjusting accordingly.
5 – Failing. In this series I discuss failure in more depth in another article, but a critical employability skill is appreciating and accepting failure. Today’s society looks upon failure negatively. I’m not talking about failing because you did something stupid or had a lack of judgment. I’m speaking of failure that is a certainty because you’re trying. Thomas Edison allegedly said, “I have not failed 1,000 times. I have successfully discovered 999 ways to NOT make a light bulb.” Failure that demonstrates an insatiable appetite to learn from mistakes (like design thinking) is good, welcome and desirable and creates employability in often unusual ways.
Communication is Key!
Today’s top employees communicate effectively and timely. They leverage productivity improvements through technology, think both critically and innovatively about problems and aren’t afraid to try – and fail. Those who refuse to communicate and are afraid to fail at solving a problem are destined to be frustrated in the modern-day workplace.