Focus on building skills and a career will follow

As the labour market evolves, your skills take centre stage

Graphic by Kelly Campbell.

If you feel lost when it comes to your career, start by building skills.

If you are at the point of being expected to make decisions and answer questions about your career, you might be under pressure to commit to a career path. As you try to nail down your future, consider if identifying a career path is even the right problem to address.

In 2018, your central task is no longer to determine what job you want to do when you graduate, it is to determine the skills you need to make an impact on the world.

The economy is in a state of flux. The Canadian labour market has been forecast to change astronomically over the next decade.

New jobs are being developed and new skill sets will be required for success. This uncertainty favours workers who are flexible and possess transferable skills which can make them successful in a multitude of roles.

The reality is that it might be hard for you to figure out your career because your future job has not yet been created.

Instead of striving for a singular career goal, focus on building skills like communication and critical thinking. These are interdisciplinary necessities that every job requires.

In fact, RBC’s 2018 report, “Humans Wanted,” forecasts a “skills revolution” in which active listening is projected to be the most important and in-demand skill.

In this new world of work, hiring could be based on skill set as opposed to field of study. Tech companies like Shopify, IBM, Apple and Google are already starting this trend. The Ottawa Citizen recently reported that these companies have moved to competency-based hiring instead of requiring a particular credential.

With this labour market transformation comes comfort for the undecided: there really is no need to choose. You just need to keep learning, growing and building your skills. Simply immerse yourself in the world of work and see where your career takes you.

Every class you take, job you work or volunteer position you take on builds skills and teaches you about who you are as a person and a professional.

No matter how adaptive your uncertainty may be, it can still be exceptionally stressful. When the economy is changing and you can’t envision your place in it, where do you even begin?

Start with what you do know. You’ve been going to school longer than doing most other things in your life. What subjects do you like? Which make you bang your head against your desk? The areas of school in which you excel hint at the ways you might excel in the workplace. Most occupations are based on knowledge areas, so this is a great place to start.

Next, think about what you are passionate about. While your passions might not exactly translate into jobs, they can be used to infer other options.

You may not be a good enough soccer player to make a living, but your team orientation, understanding of human kinematics and desire to keep moving could be career clues. These are real-world skills that prospective employers will pounce on.

Still, it can sometimes feel impossible to nail down your passions. Find them by stepping outside your comfort zone and gaining experience. Passions are not found through fantasy. Passions grow over time through extended exposure and mastery. So try stuff. Take risks. And take the time to build the skill required to grow an interest into a passion.

This comes with a bonus: while you’re out there experiencing the world on a quest for your passions, you will simultaneously build skills and networks and add to your resumé. Not bad for someone without a clue what they are doing with their life.

Still, if you really just want an answer to give next week at Thanksgiving when your aunt corners you about what the heck you’re going to do with your arts degree, perhaps tell her that you’ve embraced the modern, skills-based economy.

Choosing a job title is just so five years ago.


Rebecca Balakrishnan works in the U of M career services office. Her column appears weekly.