Do employers still care about transferrable skills?

Career change difficult, but not impossible

Brian Kreissl

 By Brian Kreissl

Over the past few years I’ve met several people who were trying to make a career change. Unfortunately, their lack of experience in the new field meant they had a very difficult time convincing prospective employers they would be a good fit.

This is particularly problematic in tough economic times because employers are often able to select candidates who have experience in the exact same type of job in the same industry. Even where career changers have directly relevant education and can demonstrate transferrable skills and competencies, they often seem to have a difficult time making the change.

Many employers have become a little spoiled over the past few years, believing they can continue to hire only people who have had the exact same title as the job they are trying to fill. Companies can sometimes even be so choosy they insist on hiring only individuals who have worked for a direct competitor.

But while we are no longer still in the depths of the recession, many organizations act like we are. They seem to be operating under the assumption that they can afford to insist on hiring so-called “purple squirrel” candidates for every vacancy.

When organizations can’t find such individuals, they throw up their hands and say we have a major skills shortage. That leads to some fairly drastic proposals, such as calls to bring in more temporary foreign workers, overhaul the entire educational system, increase the number of apprenticeship programs, downsize humanities and social science programs at colleges and universities and increase our investment in so-called STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) programs.

Several recent studies have questioned the existence of a widespread skills shortage. Some experts believe part of the problem is many employers are being too picky and aren’t hiring for potential or investing enough in training and development.

There is just too much emphasis on hiring candidates who can hit the ground running without providing them with any real training. However, I believe such candidates are actually few and far between even if they do appear to be “perfect” on paper.

Every organization has different policies, processes, tools and technologies. Even where many of those elements are very similar, organizations obviously have different cultures.

These things take time to learn for any new hire — no matter how experienced. No new hire is going to be completely productive on day one, and some type of onboarding, socialization and training is going to be required no matter what.

Employees being stuck in their careers

This is a serious problem because of the sheer magnitude of change in the workplace. New jobs are constantly being created, and even existing jobs change and adapt as technology continuously evolves.

We frequently hear how the average person will have up to seven careers in their lifetimes. People need to be able to re-skill, up-skill, change and adapt to meet the shifting demands of the labour market and make those career changes.

But if employers aren’t interested in looking at transferrable skills and won’t give career changers a chance, people are going to be stuck and organizations will still be complaining about the so-called skills shortage. People won’t be able to leave dying industries or go where the jobs are if they are being pigeonholed.

My advice to career changers

I’m not a career counsellor, but I do know a thing or two about career change, having done it myself several times and being in a bit of a career transition myself right now. While it can be a bit disheartening when prospective employers won’t consider your transferrable skills or what you would potentially bring to the role, it is still in the career changer’s best interests to highlight her transferrable skills and how they would apply in the new career.

Often a person’s resumé can be tweaked to highlight relevant tasks and accomplishments that relate directly to the new career. For that reason, it’s always best to determine what your old career and new career have in common and try to leverage as much of the old career as possible in the new one.

It’s often a good idea to take some courses in the new field and consider volunteer work if possible. I also believe it is often far easier to make a career change internally at one’s current employer than to try to change both careers and organizations simultaneously.

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