Work and transferable skills

Last year (2015) the UK's Department for Work and Pensions reported that 'The employment rate for people aged 50 to 64 has grown from 55.4 to 69.6 per cent over the past 30 years, an increase of 14.2 percentage points. The employment rate for people aged 65 and over has doubled over the past 30 years, from 4.9 to 10.2 per cent, an increase of 5.3 percentage points.

Lots more in that age group, says another report, would like to find work but face a number of age-related barriers that: 'range from a lack of practical skills, such as IT proficiency and a limited ability to navigate job search and job applications online, to more emotive responses to employment, issue such as confidence, motivation and a belief that employers routinely discriminate against older jobseekers'.

The lack of practical skills is an interesting one and is relevant not just for older job seekers: the expectation that people will need to work for longer than in the past combined with impact that technology is having on the both work content and location mean that workers of whatever age need to keep their skills honed. But it could be much more valuable to keep your transferable skills honed than your expertise skills honed. Expertise can become redundant. Transferable skills less so.

Watch the video of Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott talking about their new book The 100 Year Life. They talk of a world of in which people are going to start work later [in life], take career breaks and spend time in their 60s and 70s acquiring new skills.

It's hard to predict what sort of skills will be necessary but one way of being prepared for new types of working life is to understand that 'There will be a major shift away from the thinking that we learn one profession, have one job and stay in it for decades'. (PWC)

I've always been intrigued by people who've gone for a radically different career like people – banker to patisserie chef, for example. But when you look at these closely you find that they are not as radical as they seem. The people have taken various skills and interests they've got and developed them in a different direction. Instead of extending specific expertise – see my blog on Utility Players – they've used their range of transferable skills to take them into a new direction and then developed their expertise.

Transferable skills are the general abilities you develop and are useful across a range of different jobs and industries. But I've found that people have difficulty recognizing what transferable skills they do have: some form of compartmentalization in thinking creeps in. Skills that you apply bringing up three children don't seem that applicable to becoming a trapeze artist. But think about it. How might they be? Bringing up three children requires skills in organisation, time management, teaching, being warm and caring, quick physical reactions and so on. See how they might transfer?

There are lots of ways of identifying your transferable skills. One I like is the Union Learn set of 'Value My Skills' cards developed by Hopson and Scally who wrote Build Your Own Rainbow. Richard Bolles author of What Color is Your Parachute has transferable skills self-assessment tools and searching on the term 'transferable skills inventory' give you more.

Current work trends around mean that developing transferable skills is as important as developing expertise. What are your tips for extending and developing your transferable skills and does your organisation support transferable skills development? Let me know.