Employability skills has become mainstream terminology in the business world, especially when it comes to the employment of young people who are often criticised as not coming out of education equipped with the appropriate skills for the workplace i.e. employability skills.
As defined by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) the key employability skills are:
- A Positive Attitude – readiness to take part, openness to new ideas and activities, desire to achieve
- Self Management – readiness to accept responsibility, flexibility, time management, readiness to improve own performance
- Team working – respecting others, co-operating, negotiating/persuading, contributing to discussions
- Business and Customer Awareness – basic understanding of the key drivers for business success and the need to provide customer satisfaction
- Problem solving – analysing facts and circumstances and applying creative thinking to develop appropriate solutions
- Communication and literacy – application of literacy, ability to produce clear, structured written work and oral literacy, including listening and questioning.
- Application and Numeracy – application of numbers, general mathematical awareness and its application in practical contexts
- Application of Information Technology – basic IT skills, including familiarity with word processing, spreadsheets, file management and the use of internet search engines.
In my mind, a number of these are related and are aligned to the natural curiosity and creativity that we all have as children. In many ways we process this out of children, by dictating not just what has to be done, but specifically how things need to be done. I believe this is followed through into the workplace. Without question there is a need for guidance on the how, especially when people are learning. However, there is a need for people to be able to use their initiative, to be flexible and to be responsive to specific needs.
I often see how over prescribed processes limit employees ability to work effectively. I believe this is, however, best highlighted by an episode of the television programme, Undercover Boss that featured DHL. On one particular day, the boss worked with a member of staff in the call centre, which had very specific flow chart processes on how staff responded to customer calls. This meant that when a customer called from Australia with a concern that she had previously called about which was yet to be resolved and asked to be put on hold, the staff member refused, as it was not in line with protocol. The undercover boss was quite annoyed by this, however, when confronted at a later stage, the employee pointed out that she had followed the (target driven process) and if she had done otherwise she may have got into trouble. It could be argued that she took things to the extreme.
However, if we really want to encourage skills amongst employees such as positive attitudes; self management; business and customer awareness and problem solving; we need to enable them by adopting processes that provide frameworks and guidance without dictating the details of how things need to be done.
Dictating the how, not only limits creativity in the workplace, I believe it also limits trust as it send a message that says that we don’t trust in employee’s capabilities and we therefore need to tell them precisely what to do and how to do it.
Susan Popoola is a professional Human Resources Specialist with close to 20 years HR experience working on numerous HR related projects across the Private, Public & Voluntary sectors.