Where I mix career information and career decision making in a test tube and see what happens

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Fastest-Growing Transferable Skills

In the computer industry, project management skills are highly sought-after. In the energy industry, employers are expected to open many jobs for engineers skilled at hydrofracting. But these are highly job-specific skills. What about transferable skills, the kind that are useful in almost any industry and occupation? Which of these skills have the best job outlook? 

To answer this question, I looked at the 35 transferable skills in the O*NET database and calculated their correlations with the percentage of growth that the Department of Labor projects. I was able to make these calculations for the 735 occupations that are included in both the O*NET and the growth-projections database of the Department of Labor.

Below, I identify the top 10 transferable skills and explain why demand for them is growing so fast. Note that I do not order the skills strictly by ranking, but rather I cluster related skills together.

I’m not at all surprised to find the following three skills so high in the rankings. These are all very important for jobs in our largest and fastest-growing industry: health care. In addition, many jobs in all industries are placing increased emphasis on working in teams. In these work settings, active listening and social perceptiveness can be very important skills.
Service Orientation
Definition: Actively looking for ways to help people.
Rank: 1
Correlation: 0.5
Active Listening
Definition:  Listening to what other people are saying and asking questions as appropriate.
Rank: 2
Correlation:  0.4
Social Perceptiveness
Definition:  Being aware of others’ reactions and understanding why they react the way they do.
Rank: 5
Correlation:  0.4

The following two skills rank so high because the modern workplace is constantly changing and evolving. Workers need to master the stream of new technologies, new markets, and new business practices that affect their jobs. The second of these, learning strategies, also owes some of its high ranking to the projected high growth of teaching occupations, especially for adult education.
Active Learning
Definition:  Working with new material or information to grasp its implications.
Rank: 3
Correlation:  0.4
Learning Strategies
Definition:  Using multiple approaches when learning or teaching new things.
Rank: 8
Correlation:  0.4

The following communication skills are perennial necessities. Health-care careers, again, probably help explain the fact that speaking ranks highest of these.
Definition:  Talking to others to effectively convey information.
Rank: 4
Correlation:  0.4
Definition:  Communicating effectively with others in writing as indicated by the needs of the audience.
Rank: 6
Correlation:  0.4
Reading Comprehension
Definition:  Understanding written sentences and paragraphs in work-related documents.
Rank: 9
Correlation:  0.4

One way to understand the importance of the following skill is to consider what is happening to occupations that don’t require it at a high level: They are being either taken over by automation or shipped overseas to low-skill foreign workers. The occupations with growth potential require workers to evaluate options critically to make nonroutine decisions.
Critical Thinking
Definition:  Using logic and analysis to identify the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches.
Rank: 7
Correlation:  0.4

No doubt you’ve heard about the projected growth of STEM careers. The following skill will be important in numerous health-care, technology, and technician jobs.
Definition:  Using scientific methods to solve problems.
Rank: 10
Correlation:  0.4

It may no longer be possible (if it ever was) to build a career on mastery of just one of these skills. For example, someone with spectacular science skills who wants to succeed in the job marketplace will also need to be good at communicating, learning, helping other people, or some other skill. For this reason, most bachelor’s degree programs include requirements that are designed to teach a good cross-section of important transferable skills. That’s also why employers value the degree so much.

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