Skills are overrated
It is likely that your resume / LinkedIn profile comprises a list of skills acquired along your career journey to date. You are telling the world that you are just the person to hire if you need any of these skills.
We all hope that the skills we have acquired will be attractive to the market. Your ability to program in R, replace a hip or manage a ‘pay per click’ campaign does have value. But for how long? Where does this leave you, when your employer no longer needs this specific skill?
The industrial era worked so well because it was underpinned by a synthetic certainty.
Societies were created that were largely stable enough to predict the future. Take this degree and these careers will certainly be available to you. Build a factory manufacturing this widget and the market will definitely need that widget long enough for you to justify that factory investment.
But the era of synthetic certainty is over. Thanks to new technology and global supply chains, we are entering a world of accelerating uncertainty and volatility. Employers do not know what they will need in the near future and so employing permanent staff based on their currently relevant skill is not a long-term solution.
One way around this talent management challenge is for the employer to embrace the gig economy.
Employers simply acquire and discard the skilled people (the rise of the contractor) they need as and when required. This is not the smoothest approach to talent management, but it would address the need to maintain a relevant skills profile for any given market situation.
If you imagine an organisation as a factory machine. Ideally it would be fully automated and run like clockwork. However, some aspects of the factory processing cannot be carried out by machines, so humans are required (though that is becoming less the case with the arrival of robots and algorithms). Think of humans as a type of factory cog. These cogs represent the specific skill needed to make up the factory machine fully functional. If the factory needs to be reconfigured to reflect a new market demand, then it is likely that some new cogs will be needed and some old cogs will be discarded.
So selling yourself to the market as someone with one or more specific skills will be increasingly challenging as the pace of change picks up.
I believe we need to focus less on skills and more on capabilities and traits.
Think of capabilities as very high-level skills such as programming, project management or creativity. Such capabilities enable you to develop specific skills as needed, for example, learn to programme in Python, manage the building of a bridge or designing the interior of a restaurant. Of course, there is a learning curve in moving from capability to skill, but it is much shorter than having no associated capability.
Think of traits as being more part of your character, for example, self-discipline, focus, attentiveness. Many work roles require these traits. Certain organisations will value these traits regardless of the roles that come and go over time. Most importantly traits can be developed.
I believe smart employers will increasingly recruit based on traits and capabilities as these are more enduring in an uncertain world. The specifics of the skills needed at any given time can be acquired when required.
Thus I encourage you to focus on developing your traits and capabilities. It should be these that are put at the front of your stall. Let skills simply be examples of how you have turned your traits and capabilities into value.