Building and enhancing skill sets

Published 12:10 am Saturday, November 4, 2017

There are two important things that employees and prospective employees should do to ensure they don’t get and stay in a job where all you do is follow orders from others. Being a person who simply follows directions only, and nothing else, will position you to easily be replaced.  Others can be found to do the same thing, i.e. follow directions, and for lower pay. 

To avoid this eventual set of circumstances there are two main actions that can be taken. First, take initiative for yourself. Secondly, develop and enhance skills that aren’t easily replaced.

There are necessary “hard skills” and “soft skills” that are important and relevant for positions in all sizes of companies.  A “skills gap” accounts for the difficulty of employers filling open positions at all levels. 

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Hard skills are the more technical or operational skills whereas soft skills include communications and teamwork. The National Federation of Independent Businesses reported  in 2015 that the percentage of businesses reporting few or no qualified applicants for their open positions exceeded 40 percent.

A valuable employee will anticipate needs in their workplace and follow up by taking care of them.  Regardless of the level of your position you can stand above the pack and become more valuable to your employer.  If you see a problem, work on finding a solution. 

In order to take initiative successfully a person needs a skill set. Your skills will set you apart from other employees or applicants for a job. Developing skills that are needed in your company will position you for promotions and higher earnings. 

Following are some ideas for skill development.

1. Be inquisitive — Asking questions is not a sign of weakness but is instead a strength. This is the best way to gain a better understanding of everything going on in your workplace. 

Seek to understand why things are done as the way they are. You will become much more knowledgeable about how things work together in your workplace and position yourself for a clearer overall understanding of the business.

2. Do not waste time. — Time is a very valuable resource and spending your time working is what your employer is paying you to do. Standing around the water cooler chit-chatting, talking on the phone for personal calls, surfing the web, texting or emailing friends and others, day dreaming, playing games, etc. are some of the time wasters employees spend time on. This is time you as an employee are being paid to perform work. 

Would you classify this as stealing from your employer?

If you don’t have something to do, look for opportunities to help another employee, to learn a new task, to volunteer for a project, work on solving a problem. It will be noticed and you will set yourself apart from other employees.

3. Become more efficient — Practicing the ideas above will assist in making you more productive on the job. Being efficient and effective involves time management and will secure your long-term employment. Staying up to speed on technological changes is crucial in the fast-changing environment in which we live and work.

4. Take advantage of training and education — Take any classes available to you. Go to any seminars and workshops offered. 

Take advantage of in-house training and get involved in extra projects, even if it involves your time away from the job.  Spread your wings and learn new things that are not part of your every day job.

5. Look for opportunities to make more contacts and build relationships — Establish mentoring relationships in order to learn from others.

This can be useful for operational and transactional tasks and even more important, increasing leadership skills. Having contacts inside and outside your company will pay many dividends for years to come.

6. Read( or listen to) books and articles — This is an easy and inexpensive way to gain knowledge. There are industry-specific podcasts, blogs, web sites, apps, etc. that you can take advantage of anytime without leaving your home or office.

7. Join professional organizations — Many organizations provide training, networking, conferences, mentoring and other learning opportunities to members. There are also more informal groups available online like LinkedIn where you can ask questions and get other opinions and perspectives on various subjects.

8. Volunteer in your community — All kinds of organizations are always looking for volunteers. It is a good way to hone leadership and management  skills and meet others who you can network with and learn from.

If you consistently practice the steps outlined above you will always have an up to date and valuable skill set that employers seek to find and hold onto. Employees who become productive on their own initiative, finding things to do on their own rather than wasting time, will build the skill sets that employers are looking for and want to retain over the long haul.

Becky Vaughn-Furlow retired from Trustmark Bank as executive vice president and human resources director. She can be contacted by emailing