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Transferable skills

Tue, 02/20/2018 - 14:40
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Career progression only ever appears to be a straight line in hindsight. It’s fashionable (well kind of) to say career progression is more like climbing a wall than a ladder, where you may need to move down, sideways, diagonally in order to progress. It’s a hackneyed analogy, but there is an element of truth to this.

In reality, your career progression is about making choices that interest you and using the transferable skills you have acquired from your studies.

The point, and there is one labouring away here, is that career progression, what you choose to study, work and do now, may not have a linear and direct relevance to what you do next, but the most valuable skills you have are those you use to complete your studies, to cope with friends and family and to manage your day to day life.

I studied Archaeology, then worked as an archaeologist, after which I worked on a building site. There are clear transferable skills there; digging holes and getting muddy with a big pickaxe.

After this I drove a delivery van for a printing firm in the north of England, which wasn’t quite as smooth a transition. Then I made what appears to be a bigger shift, working as an English teacher in South Korea. Now I work for Pearson, the learning company, so there’s an education link there. The transition from one role to another may not appear to be directly linked, but inevitably you learn and pick up skills from every role and experience and this informs and shapes you for future roles.

In all my jobs, so far, I’ve worked with people, communicated ideas and tried to solve problems, sometimes on my knees digging up bits of bone and pottery, other times navigating Leeds’ inner ring road.

If you are studying for a BTEC Higher National, for example the BTEC HN in Construction & the Built Environment, and plan to become a Quantity Surveyor, then you might think Construction Technology, Project phasing, Material selection and properties are the most important and valuable pieces of information to learn and understand. They are important, but may lose some of their relevance if you decide to change your job to something completely different.

There have been many studies, but on average people born in the 1960s - 1980s averaged two job changes by 32 years old, while present day youth (THAT’S YOU!) are closer to three or four. Some reports estimate more, some less, but the trend seems to be constant; you will have opportunities and be expected to change jobs more often than the previous generation.
In this case, knowledge of material properties and selection can become quickly redundant. Instead, be aware of and focused on acquiring transferable skills relevant to many employment sectors.

With this in mind, important skills you learn while studying for a BTEC Higher National are those intangible, transferable skills; cognitive and problem solving skills, intra-personal skills and interpersonal skills.

Interpersonal skills are your ability to communicate with colleagues, to understand and respond to others and to appropriately articulate your needs and ideas, to communicate and persuade, to collaborate and negotiate. If you can’t get along with other people, get a point across and work with other people then perhaps there’s only one job for you.

Intra-personal skills are your ability to self manage, to be adaptable and resilient – being able to cope with change and continue when work or tasks get difficult. It boils down to being self aware. These are the skills you employ every day in your studies and life; managing yourself, your time & getting things done.

Cognitive and Problem-solving skills are those you use when thinking your way through and around a problem. It means thinking, learning and communicating, reasoning and using logic to solve a problem. This is a skill employers look for in all employees - in every job. This might be reviewing a set of figures, identifying a trend and making a decision based on evidence. This is where work, and studies can be fun if you view them as a series of puzzles.

When you are studying, or working and encounter a problem or a difficulty in understanding a piece of information or a situation, it’s best to see this challenge as a puzzle. The skills you develop and employ to understand and solve a problem during your studies will be relevant and helpful to you throughout your working and social life.

The skills I employed as an archaeologist were identical to those I used as a teacher – instead of excavating and looking at fragments of bone and pottery, I elicited spoken and written English from students. In both cases, my job was to help extract information.

This is quite liberating. You aren’t confined to one sector or job – you really can do anything. The best piece of advice then is to choose to do something you enjoy, something that interests you - because you already have the most important skills you need.

Now, put those problem solving skills to use…see the puzzle below as homework or practice for the world of work…

The Nine Dot problem: connect the dots by making four lines, without lifting your pencil from the paper (you can draw outside the box)

Hint: Your lines do not have to stay inside the box.

Image Source: Sam Loyd's Cyclopedia of Puzzles (1914).

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Pearson


I work to build progression routes into professional bodies & employers for our learners. I’m interested in language learning & assessment ( I worked as a teacher/manager for the British Council for 10 years) and food; all food but especially Korean food. My dream as a kid was to become Indiana Jones which led me to work as en archaeologist.  

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