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Image of a large tree with long-reaching roots
Photo by Jason Weingardt on Unsplash

Exploring our career options is something most of us will revisit time-and-again throughout our career, whether intentionally, by happenstance or due to forces beyond our control.

With the help of a career educator, parent, professor, friend, or completely on our own, we all need to identify what skills are most needed in the workforce, no doubt a daunting task, since the jobs you may have targeted when you first entered university may not even exist by the time you graduate, and new job titles are yet to come. To succeed in normal times, pivoting and adapting made all the difference. Now, we must factor in the unprecedented change and uncertainty of a pandemic to our ability to stay relevant!

In Deep Human, a book about how to thrive in tomorrow’s workplace, the authors emphasize the importance of being “future-ready.” In these times, I would argue, being future-ready may no longer be as important as being “now-ready.” After all, how do we future-proof ourselves when the future we had imagined and planned for seems to no longer exist, or at a minimum will be in a holding pattern for some time to come? If you’re feeling discouraged, insecure, anxious or pessimistic – and I know I am – no one could blame you. Then again, when we honestly look at today’s careers, was there ever a guaranteed pathway from school to a predictable climb up the career ladder, even before the Covid-19 crisis, anyway?

Experts in career development research suggest that what helps us thrive in times of change and uncertainty is having soft skills, otherwise known as people skills, or interpersonal skills, such as: curiosity, empathy, resilience, communication, entrepreneurialism, flexibility, problem-solving, adaptability, humility, a growth mindset and others. You know them – you use and develop them every day in university - they are just not typically listed on your class syllabus.

Roots indicate who you are, while your wings help you engage and contribute.

Michael Ford

What’s more, according to LinkedIn Workforce Development Lead, Jake Hirsch-Allen, the most important skills are foundational human skills, described as: leadership and management, creative problem solving and design thinking, and communication, while the Society for Human Resource Management reported in 2016 that employers actually put more emphasis on soft skills than on teachable, job-specific skills or hard skills, when hiring entry-level positions.

Think about these scenarios: You hire a web developer to build relationships with clients, but the person shows little sense of curiosity and poor listening skills. A young engineer at a start-up doesn’t share the company’s entrepreneurial spirit. A whiz at accounting can’t communicate with clients. A sales rep can’t quickly adapt to new technology in the office. Undoubtedly, the list goes on. Soft skills, and human, relational skills, matter.

As a busy student trying to keep your head above water, how can you develop these marketable skills, especially in these times? To start with, you might want to connect online with an SFU Career Education Specialist. Career educators emphasize the benefits of exploring one’s unique strengths, interests and values and finding ways to engage and contribute in the workforce, and can help you explore possibilities that might reveal the most important soft skills in your areas of interest. In Deep Human, the writers refer to this process as developing your roots and wings – both of which are essential to thriving in a career. If roots indicate who you are, your wings help you engage and contribute. By building these foundational and developmental assets in your university years, you will be better prepared when you graduate.

So, where to start? Perhaps find an online course in public speaking, debating, teamwork or conflict resolution such as SFU’s FASS Forward micro-credit courses to develop a range of human skills. Many online courses on human skills are available for free to SFU students on LinkedIn Learning. Even in these times of murky job prospects, there are online workshops, volunteer opportunities, and jobs that provide possibilities to refine your skills. It also may be a time to revisit your resume, highlighting some soft skills you may have previously thought weren’t all that relevant. You might find opportunities to practice and further refine your skills in class projects. A great way to collect and compile a list of your skills might be by developing an ePortfolio. If being isolated makes it difficult to stay motivated, maybe schedule a weekly video call or Facebook discussion with a group of fellow students to share experiences and to support each other. What other ways can you come up with?

In summary, staying relevant in the job market never ends. It demands our full participation and resilience – today more than ever. Fortunately, many skills that were needed yesterday will still be needed tomorrow, and thankfully, staying relevant isn’t a task you need to take on alone. Start by consulting with an SFU career educator, parent, professor, friend, or through your own reflections. And remember, if the added stress and uncertainty of these times is leaving you overwhelmed, counselling and other supports are available to members of the SFU community as well as Covid-19 support groups.

Beyond the Blog

SFU Student
Michael Ford is an SFU graduate student in the MA program in Educational Psychology. Before returning to school two years ago, Michael assembled a long and diverse career in communications, business and the arts. When not studying or helping students in his role as Senior Career Peer, Michael is usually with his two kids or playing his guitar.
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Jun 18, 2020

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