Fireside Chat: Emerging Skill Needed for 21st Century Career Sector

What does it take to succeed in today’s 21stcentury job/career sector?  What is different from yesterday when many of us were entering the job “marketplace”? I actively seek out answers to these are questions to assist graduate students and post docs.

I don’t need to tell you that in the future, more jobs will require an education beyond a four-year degree.  In just a few short years – we know that millions of new and replacement jobs will require a graduate degree.  That is definitely different from yesterday.

Recently, I had the opportunity to serve on the National Academy of Sciences Committee, “Stem Education for 21stCentury” and a panel at the National Summit on Developing a Stem Workforce Strategy. This panel included leaders from a variety of technology industries. We discussed the challenges businesses face in developing the work force and how the skills and knowledge of graduate students are needed and valued even more today.

You read the word stem and you are in social sciences or the humanities, this information is as relevant to you as it is to all graduate students.  How do I know this?

My research comes from interviews and conversations with CEOs and industry leaders; participating on the Council of Graduate Schools Committee “Pathways Through Graduate Education and into Careers”; listening to graduate students, post docs, alumni; attending a conference, “The Future of Work” and engaging business leaders in conversation about this topic.

I have been asking these questions for years and what I recently discovered is that there is a new skill that emerged.  Of the three skills, two were consistently mentioned to me over the years. They are 1) Communication skills both oral and written, and 2) Teamwork, especially interdisciplinary.  The emerging skill that is needed is agility or flexibility.

Communication. It’s important for students and professionals to acquire the capacity to communicate the significance and impact of their work to the public at large. It’s what I call the “So What?” factor. Your work is important to you, but how does it relate or impact me or my stake holders? That’s what the public and policy makers want to know.

Interpersonal communication skills are a critical component of being able to work across disciplines or in diverse groups or committees. They are necessary just to get along in the office or the lab.

Industry leaders emphasized the importance of being able to discuss technical issues with nontechnical individuals.  This essential skill is needed for job success and career advancement. Tied with that are presentation skills. How does one present their information to engage the audience?

It is critical that all graduate students be able to communicate across generations – from Millennials to GenX to Boomers. Each generation has a different style and way in which they like to communicate from texting to face-to-face meetings. It is incumbent upon us to understand how to communicate across different generations and with diverse intelligent lay audiences. We are trained to communicate effectively with those in our disciplines.  We need to expand our skills.  The 3 Minute ThesisTMis an excellent way to practice this.

Teamwork. Why is teamwork so important? Andrew Carnegie said it well.  “Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision.  The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives.  It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.”

Developing the ability to work collaborative in a team involves having depth in your discipline and being able to work effectively with colleagues with expertise in other disciplines from diverse cultural backgrounds. You need to be able to work with different research methodologies and work styles. That is the lay of the land today.  This is different from yesterday.

“No problem can be solved alone.”  I heard that repeated numerous times over the last few years.  “This is how industry works” – is what I also heard.  Numerous studies and reports in the literature have documented the importance of the ability to work effectively in teams. Today industry puts people together in teams to solve complex or “wicked” problems or issues. Thus, you need the communication skill set I described above as well as the ability to listen.  Yes, problems are more complex today and that is different from yesterday.

Agility or Flexibility. Being agile or flexibleisthe emerging skill that was emphasized as I visited with alumni in the corporate sector.  As I listened to leaders and alumni from Non-profits, the Chemical industry, the Tech industry, Textile industry, as well as the law industry, the message was the same.  They told me that to be successful and to advance in your career, you need to be agile and flexible.

You need to “Think Big, start small, and move fast.” “Change will be rapid and disruption intense.” You may be working on one project today and have to totally change direction tomorrow or change projects as the company is moving in a new direction.

You need to be able to shift gears quickly and often. If you don’t or can’t, you will be left behind. That message came through loud and clear as I spoke with alumni and industry leaders from across the country.

For you to bring value to the workplace, you have to bring you’re A+ game.  That includes having these three skills in your “tool box.”  That’s what’s different from yesterday.

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drmgrasso

My experience as the chief academic officer and administrator charged with providing vision and leadership in planning, guiding, and coordinating all aspects of graduate education from admission through graduation at two major research universities provides the foundation for our fireside chats.

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