Reinvent your career along the skills pyramid

Reinvent your career along the skills pyramid

 By Abhijit Bhaduri

 
I looked at the puzzled expressions on the faces of the 200 MBAs we had hired from campus. This was day one at work. I was going to talk to them about "reinventing careers". Isn''t it too early to think about reinvention on the first day at work, they ask me. Careers are not built on aspirations. Not anymore. They are built around the portfolio of skills we have. Think of all your skills represented by a pyramid. 
 
Commodity skills 
 
At the base of the pyramid, we have skills that can be termed ''commodity skills''. You possess these, but cannot put them in your resume. There was a time when people would proudly mention that they were proficient in Word, Excel and Power-Point. Today we simply expect people to have these skills. Having them is not an advantage. But not having them can be a limitation. Finally, the commodity skills don''t need you to go to a certified instructor. They are skills we pick up through informal sources of learning. Over time, commodity skills cease to matter and are replaced by marketable skills. 
 
 
Marketable skills 
 
Accountants have to learn how to balance books. Project managers have to learn how to steer complex projects towards completion. These are skills we acquire through formal education and certification. When people attend vocational classes or go to college, they are looking to acquire mainstream skills. There are many providers of these, besides a structured way to learn these skills. Most people''s careers are built on the basis of 
mainstream skills. When employers write a job description they are looking for these skills as the core of what the candidate will be expected to do. Proficiency in main stream skills gives you an advantage over your peers. Doctors and surgeons build their professional skills through an apprenticeship with more experienced doctors and surgeons. Over time, marketable skills do not provide a differentiator. That comes from niche skills. 
 
 
Niche skills 
 
Swift is Apple''s new programming language, which has been in development for the past four years and is all set to replace Objective-C as the main language for app development on Apple''s platforms, OSX and iOS. How will people learn this new language? Apple has published a guide that will serve as a starting point for others to start. Through trial and error, early enthusiasts will sharpen their skills and start releasing "how to" videos and blog posts. Learning a niche skill is not always as organised and structured. Yet, in a fast changing world, people with niche skills have a distinct advantage. But not every one of the 9 million registered Apple developers will reskill themselves and learn the new language on their own. Some will wait for more structured instructions and courses to be developed before they can learn while some will never make the transition at all. 
 
Disrupting the Pyramid 
 
The skills pyramid is never static. As technology changes, regulations evolve, and some commodity skills become obsolete and irrelevant. What was once considered to be a marketable skill becomes commoditised very soon. Yesterday''s niche skills are today''s marketable skills and tomorrow''s commodity skills. Technology is a disruptor in the skills market. Every new product or service that is launched creates another shuffle of the skills market. Every new product or service that is launched creates another shuffle of the skills pyramid and renders some marketable skills obsolete or at best commoditised where it is impossible to get paid for having those skills. Being able to learn new skills constantly is an important element of success in today''s world. This is not a skill most people have been used to building. 
 
 
 
 
 

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