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Building an action plan to develop skills, knowledge and competencies

Developing strategies for closing individual skills gaps
Today's employers seem to be looking for specialists and can sometimes have a difficult time trying to figure out what to do with a “Jack of all trades.” Vector Goddess/Shutterstock

By Brian Kreissl

Last week, I discussed the concept of T-shaped knowledge and skills – the idea one should build both breadth and depth in her career.

The principle is the vertical bar of the “T” represents expert knowledge in one’s own field, while the horizontal bar is about knowledge, skills and abilities in other areas to provide a holistic understanding of the profession or function, the organization, business in general and society overall.

Building horizontal breadth helps to develop an understanding of the bigger picture and allows specialists to understand and collaborate with functional specialists in other disciplines.

I also think this concept could be expanded upon to include general knowledge about society and the world around us. This is similar to the idea of liberal studies or breadth requirements in university degrees that require people to take courses outside their major or concentration.

Aside from the importance of breadth, I believe it’s more important now than ever before to have one or more specialties to focus on and develop expert knowledge in those fields.

As I’ve mentioned several times over the years, employers these days seem to be looking for specialists and can sometimes have a difficult time trying to figure out what to do with a “Jack of all trades.”

But because business, technology and society are changing so rapidly and organizations are flatter than they used to be with fewer opportunities for advancement and many industries and functions undergoing disruption, I personally think it’s a good idea to have more than one specialty to fall back on and to be flexible and adaptable.

With employers being so picky these days and combining what used to be two or more jobs into one single role, I also believe it can be beneficial to have more than one specialty.

Nevertheless, those different specialties should ideally complement one another rather than being totally disparate or dissimilar to one another. The only exceptions might be a true multipotentialite, someone with a portfolio career or a “slasher” combining two or more completely different careers simultaneously.

Using LinkedIn for career planning

So, how should one decide which fields or skills to combine? In my opinion, the best tool around to help determine this sort of thing is LinkedIn.

Using LinkedIn can help with career planning in at least two ways. First of all, even if you aren’t currently looking for another role it can help to review job postings to see what kinds of skills, knowledge, competencies, education and experience employers are looking for in certain roles.

Secondly, it can be helpful to review the profiles of successful people in your field in roles you aspire to and determine what it would take to get there. What kinds of skills, knowledge, competencies, education, experience and certifications would be beneficial to acquire in order to land your dream job?

Taking an inventory of skills and competencies

Part of this exercise also involves taking an inventory of your current skills and competencies. What are you currently known for and what would you like to be known for? What are some of the gaps in your current profile and how are you going to close them?

Education is obviously one strategy to close those gaps, but as a recovering “education geek,” I would caution others not to think solely about formal education as a strategy for building knowledge and skills.

Many roles generally require certain educational qualifications, and if 90 per cent of people occupying the job you want have a certain degree, I would advise you to try to obtain that degree if at all possible (although it may be possible to skip the degree if your background stands out in some other way).

However, higher education is notorious for not being all that practical, and in many cases educational programs haven’t kept up with the demands of employers in terms of the types of knowledge and skills required for certain jobs.

Additional skills are likely going to be required beyond the degree, but fortunately there are many different ways you can acquire skills that don’t require you to enroll in an additional degree or diploma program.

Self-directed learning and certificate programs can help. I also think volunteering for special projects in other teams or departments, secondments, temporary assignments, volunteer work and simply focusing on certain types of work in your current role can help.

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Brian Kreissl

Brian Kreissl is the product development manager for Thomson Reuters Legal Canada's human resources, OH&S, payroll and records retention products and solutions.
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