Bernard Salt: soft skills; Ruth Ostrow: defeatist catchcries; Mystic Medusa
I have this sudden urge to give advice to others
THERE comes a time in life when you get all reflective. When you get all "the youth are our future" type of thing. I must be getting to that time of life. It must start in the mid-50s. It's probably programmed into the DNA: find partner in the 20s; have family in the 30s; focus on career in the 40s; give advice to others in the 50s; go on a European river cruise in the 60s.
And as I am sitting squarely in my 50s I have this sudden urge to give advice to others.
What are the skills required by a 20-something to ensure career and/or business success? There are two answers to this question.
The first thing you need is training. A university degree or apprenticeship is a must. Low-skilled, let alone unskilled, work is being outsourced to developing economies. I wouldn't want to be a 20-something approaching the 2020s without an accredited set of skills. I know it involves hard work and commitment in the late teenage years and the early 20s but you must do it. No ifs, no buts.
The second thing that is required is less tangible. It isn't a course, certificate or apprenticeship. It's a set of qualities. This is a bit like the distinction between military power and soft power.
A university degree or something similar gives you the technical hardware to compete in the workforce but it is other softer, less tangible skills that truly deliver career success. To the extent that well developed soft skills can offset the drag-effect of less-than-prestigious technical skills.
And do you know where these powerful but oh-sorare soft skills are acquired? Not at uni. Not in the workplace. Not through access to some whizz-bang mentor. I think these skills are acquired in the home during the childhood and teenage years. Do you have the verbal and writing skills to express your ideas? Are you numerate? I don't mean are you a mathematician; I mean can you look at a set of numbers and see what is out of kilter? The best chief executives I have seen do that. They don't know they are doing it. It's intuitive.
Are you confident enough to project your ideas? Or do you question your right to occupy the mind space of others?
And then there's the killer soft skill that I reckon comes from deep within the core personality. Are you resilient? Can you brush aside the snide remarks of competitors? Do you have the emotional maturity to have a difficult conversation and to not carry a grudge?
Do you have a sense of fair play? Can you form relationships easily? Are you diligent? Are you prepared to work hard? No, I don't mean have you worked hard since February. I mean are you prepared to work hard year after year? And are you fun to be around? Do people like working with you? Do you build and retain good relationships?
These are soft skills. These are killer skills. These are career-leveraging skills. They can future-proof a career. No matter what new technology or what company takeover should transpire, it is those with the best mix of soft and technical skills that will survive and prosper.
Soft skills are like a flotation device for navigating troubled waters. That's my grand career advice to others. And to be frank I am pretty pleased with it. Now, can anyone tell me about the Rhine River cruise? The brochures make it look absolutely lovely.