I’ve tried my best to avoid writing about COVID19 related topics and avoid most news related to the topic right now but I always find myself drawn back in somehow. So, here I am again, writing about a COVID19 related topic. However, I jump back in for what I hope is a good reason in exploring how those that have lost their jobs, currently furloughed or at risk of losing their job due to this strange time can look to re-skill to take on a new opportunity.
Over the past few months, Pandora’s box has been blown wide open and we are learning a lot about ourselves, society, humanity and the way we live and work. Sadly, some of us have had the unfortunate experience of losing our jobs during this time and many more are experiencing a disruption to the way they work which requires skills and behaviours that they don’t have.
It’s safe to say the future of work and how we live has changed and is going to change even more.
So, how do we prepare for this? Good question and I don’t have the answers, sorry! I’m navigating all of this just like you but I do have some thoughts on what this means for the future of work. Specifically, I believe a forced shift in skills is here and a speedy evolution in shared skills across all people is needed.
As much as I know people hate me for saying it. The conversation of lifelong employability is an important one currently and it is fuelled by the need for rapid and continued acquisition of new skills. Too long have many of us avoided investing in the areas we know we need to work on to keep up with the modern world. Now, it feels like the choices are no longer there and it has been forced upon us by the COVID19 crisis.
How to re-skill for your future growth
If you’re looking to take a pivot in your career and/or build new skills for an existing career but not sure where to start, what to do or how to get there. Let me unpack some stuff that’s going to help you with all of the above and put a plan in place to achieve your aspirations, no matter where they might lead you.
Let’s start at the beginning: figuring out what you want to do and where you could go
Ok, you’re eager to start putting a plan in place but you might have no idea what you want to do, how you can transfer current skills, what new skills you should acquire and where your talents could be best placed.
Fear not, my friend. Read on as we explore some tools and tactics to get you some answers.
Knowing what, why and where
The following philosophy focuses on two areas, 1) Identifying a place where your talents are best suited and 2) how to build the skills for that world. In a nutshell, it’s about having an honest conversation with yourself to find the right place for you. Once you have nailed this, we can start focusing on the skills you need.
I often ask people these 3 questions to help in identifying their current and future skills. Step 1 in understanding the skills and behaviours you need to acquire is to know where your talents are best placed.
- What am I great at and why?
- What do I enjoy and why?
- Where is that combination most valued?
Use the above to understand what you really want and where your current skills can be transferred. This will cover the “Where do I want to be” question and allow you to start exploring what additional skills and behaviours you will need to get there.
This will take some deep thought and reflection, but your answers will help shape your plan going forward.
Don’t fool yourself with what you think you should be great at or what you should enjoy, carry out a honest examination to discover what the real answers are. Only then can you look to build the skills that will be of relevance for your preferred career.
What’s your Ikigai? An alternative way to the what, why and where
Why do you rise in the morning?
It’s not a trick question, think about it for a moment…
And don’t just say “because I need to earn money to stay alive” – we all need that, but that’s not why we get up.
Struggling to find the answer? Don’t worry most of us do!
Meaning is an important thing. It’s not something many of us probably tend to reflect on often. We are so wrapped up in our own world that it can be difficult to see what we are doing it all for. Of course, reflecting on thoughts like this can be scary as shit so I understand why so many divert from doing this.
But nonetheless, we all want meaning, we all want to feel like we are doing something or working towards something at least.
This is more reflective in our society than ever before. We often see stories about people ditching the 9-5 to pursue passion projects, whilst others try to bring more balance to their life with smarter working practices. With COVID19, this thinking has been excelled and now affects a larger majority of our population.
Meaning in any work is important, so, how do we find ours?
Ikigai 生きがい: The map to meaning
Ok, so we know that we are all looking for meaning. But how do we find it? Do we embark on a meditation spree to wait for the mind to have a eureka moment? Or is it like catching a wild Pokemon, where we run around urban areas with our phones out shouting “it’s over there!”?
Sadly the answer to both of those is no.
What we need is a guide that will help us discover what it is that gives us meaning. So, let me introduce you to a beautiful Japanese concept called Ikigai.
Essentially Ikigai translates to ‘a reason for being’ in English. It’s not a new concept, it has long existed in Japan and is more recently getting exposure in the western world as more of us seek meaning in our lives.
Ikigai (pronounced ee-key-guy) is made of two Japanese words: iki, which means “life” and Kai, which has a number of meanings but for the purpose of this word it translates to, “meaning the realisation of hopes and expectations.” Put together “a reason for living”.
In the culture of Okinawa, (a small Japanese island where Ikigai is believed to have its origins) Ikigai is thought of as “a reason to get up in the morning” – a reason to enjoy life.
Ikigai = meaning
So, this all sounds great, I know, but how do we start to find our own Ikigai?
Discovering your Ikigai
Now we have a loose overview of the wonderful concept of Ikigai, it’s time to explore how we can apply this to our own lives.
Behold the mighty map of Ikigai:
Now the middle spot is obviously where we want to be, these points intersect to land in our Ikigai aka the sweet spot. It’s here we can start to get a clearer picture of what we would like to do and where that could take us.
Your Ikigai is the space where what you love, what you are good at, what the world needs and what you can be paid for meet. Now you can make tweaks to this blueprint to suit your own approach, but the fundamentals stay the same. If you can align these 4 areas then you will have found your Ikigai aka your sense of meaning.
What I love about Ikigai is that it’s not fixed, it’s ever changing, it flows with you. It’s not about you finding complete happiness in life or your career, as that’s quite an elusive pursuit. We could say it’s more like we are creating our own opportunity for continued happiness in work and life.
What’s important is that we find some sort of meaning that drives our reason for being. The thing (or things) that makes life worthwhile. And, of course, our career choices play a big part in this. Knowing what gives you meaning will help you in understanding where you could go to satisfy this sense of meaning.
So, what’s mine?
Now we know that Ikagi is the point where what we love, what we are good at, what the world needs and what we can be paid for meet. We can start to ask ourselves some simple questions, some which will seem glaringly obvious.
- What do I love?
- What am I good at?
- What does the world need?
- What can I be paid for?
This is no easy task. It’s one which will require deep thought and self reflection.
Do remember that your Ikigai will change as time goes on. Few things ever give us the same feeling as time passes, so don’t fixate on this being a permanent thing. Your Ikigai will evolve with you.
The events of COVID19 give us all time to pause and consider what gives us meaning. You don’t have to call it Ikigai or believe in an old Japanese philosophy but searching within yourself to discover the answers to the 4 questions above is going to be essential in you figuring out where you want to go next.
Ok, by now I hope you have somewhat of an idea of your current transferable skills, what you’d like to do and where you could do that. The answers to these points will unlock the skills you need to focus on to make your next move.
The next step is to do your research. If you know you want to move into x role or career, do a Google search and find out what skills people in those roles have. Once you’ve identified the top 3-5 skills you’re missing or need to develop further, it’s time to build a skills map so you know where you are now.
A skills map is a simple spider diagram which allows you to rate your skills right now and plot where you need them to be. You can find an example below and download a free skills map template of your own here.
As you can see, this visual gives you a simple overview of self-assessing where your skills are now and where you need them to be for your desired career. Visit this every 3 months to reassess your current skills and keep yourself on track. You can utilise a tool like this throughout your entire career.
Now you have a better understanding of where you are right now and where you need to be. It’s time to build a plan on how you will acquire new skills and behaviours.
The master plan
The final part in our journey is to take all the insight you now have and turn it into action.
This is simpler than you might think. I’m not going to give you a specific template for this. Instead I’m going to share what the key structure of your plan should contain and you can create a template that works for you.
You could structure your plan a bit like this:
1. What are the skills or behaviours you want to acquire or develop?
List the 3-5 skills and/or behaviours you want to focus on. I strongly recommend you focus on no more than 5 and appreciate your time capacity. I’ve seen too many people give up as they list out 20 things they think they need to have when in reality a lot of them are not required.
The reflection you’ve already done and a completed skills map will make sure you are aligned with the essential skills and behaviours you need.
2. Why will they help you in the pursuit of new opportunities?
It is always good to challenge yourself on the why. Be clear on why these skills will help you land that next role. If they don’t then discard them for now.
3. How will you acquire and/or develop these skills and behaviours?
Do you need a formal learning experience with a coach, mentor or teacher? Or maybe, you can learn everything you need from books, YouTube videos and free resources online? It’s a big world full of free content out there.
Alongside books, blogs and YouTube, you might find some of these useful too:
The Skills Toolkit provided free by the UK Government.
edX: Lots of free courses and resources from Harvard, MIT and leading companies across the world.
Coursera: Another platform with content from leading universities and companies worldwide including Google, IBM and Imperial College London. They offer lots of free and paid for material.
Microsoft Learn: Upgrade your tech skills for free with this offering from Microsoft.
Microsoft Training Academy: Learn how to use anything and everything that Microsoft provides. With everything from building sexy presentations in powerpoint to kicking ass with pivot tables in Excel. You’ll find something for everyone here.
Google Digital Garage: Acquire new skills for the digital world. Plenty of great free resources and online courses for those interested in data, technology, marketing and career development.
4. Who and what can help me?
This could be finding a mentor, working with friends or your extended network to source people that could help in building the skills and behaviours you need.
5. When do I need to reach this goal?
They say a goal without a deadline is just a dream, so, you need to be clear on when you need to acquire the competency you require in each skill. Note how I say competency and not mastery, as the latter is what you will spend your life working towards.
Bringing it together
How you build this into a document where you capture all of this is up to you. You could build this into a table in word, a flashy powerpoint diagram, a simple Excel doc or go old school like I do with a notebook. Whatever works for you, take the time to capture your thoughts and display it where you can easily revisit often.
One more thing!: Final thoughts on skill development and lifelong employability
I want you to imagine that your skills are like an evolving jigsaw puzzle, where you can swap out pieces at any time to create the skills that you need today. We all need to build a talent stack which enables lifelong employability and the key to this is in continually investing in your skills to be future-fit.
Make it a quarterly task to reflect on your skills and ask yourself:
1. What skills are expiring in my field of work?
2. What skills do I need to evolve i.e get better at?
3. What are the emerging skills in my industry?
It’s a simple framework but one which will help you focus on the actions you need to take to be ready for today and tomorrow. The aim is to align your mindset to assess, build and use your skills often. Keep yourself sharp with self-assessment and putting everything into practice.
What about lifelong employability?…
This is a difficult topic and of course I don’t have the answers, no one does. None of us could have predicted this strange time, well apart from Bill Gates, yet we can learn to be adaptable. Our adaptability to the world in whatever way it evolves through this will be in key in how all of us can continue building our careers.
You know my thoughts on this by now, invest in your skills and you will unlock ongoing opportunities in your career, no matter which path you choose.
I hope that the content in this article will help you to dust yourself off, explore opportunities and get back on that saddle. As someone far wiser than me once said, this too shall pass.