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Skills For A Changing World: How To Prepare Yourself For The Job Market

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Jan 20, 2018
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Today, we live in a different world. Walls and boundaries are crumbling. The internet has effectively made the geographic boundary irrelevant. This means we will have to compete on a global stage and have to prepare ourselves for it. Today, your competition or challenge is no more limited by your geographic boundary.

On the other hand, our jobs are becoming increasingly complex. In the past, job roles were specific and defined but today, our job roles are at best ambiguous and we get to find ways to navigate this ambiguity and win.

Technology is taking over our lives and it is changing almost every industry in a very fundamental way. This means you have to be, regardless of your field of work, tech-savvy not only to thrive but also to survive.

At the same time, in a world where machines start to take over our mundane repetitive jobs, the humane skills become only means to indispensability and we have to learn to solve problems that machines can’t solve, skills that robots or AI-enabled machines can’t do, skills such as creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving and so forth.

Along with these challenges, competition in the job market continues to grow. Today, having a business or engineering degree is no more enough. Modern workplaces require you to have cognitive flexibility, entrepreneurial mindset, and ability to think critically and come up with unconventional ideas to solve complex problems.

We do not challenge students enough at any education level to enable them to make good use of their pliable potentials. As a result, they become cognitively inflexible”, says Rizwana Akhter, a senior development professional and career counselor, Facilitator of Preparatory training for public and private jobs with over 16 years experience of working in leading development organizations in Bangladesh. People with high level of creativity, problem-solving, and cognitive flexibility, social and emotional intelligence will rule the future workplace, Ms. Rizwana adds, who teaches /facilitates a day-long training program at Bdjobs Training on preparatory young people for Public and Private Jobs.

In this fascinating interview with Ms. Rizwana, brought to you by Bdjobs Training, we discussed a wide range of topics including the importance of soft skills, most important soft skills and how one can develop these skills, why taking initiative and the ability to solve complex problems are increasingly becoming important skills at workplaces and how one can get good at these areas in context of changing reality of job market, fourth industrial revolution, most in-demand skills and why with high level of creativity, problem-solving, and cognitive flexibility, social and emotional intelligence will rule the future workplace.

Yes, it is and a better understanding of these skills and what initiatives one needs to take makes all the difference. Soft Skills are a set of skills that enable us to make proper, effective and meaningful use of our hard skills. For example, by training one can be a doctor, engineer, scientist, researcher, chemist, accountant, lawyer and that is their respective hard skills but to be successful in their careers and make best use of their hard skills they need soft skills like cognitive flexibility, people management, critical thinking and analytical ability to become a problem solver, language proficiency, coordination, communication skills, social and emotional intelligence and the list goes on.

Future Startup

Soft skill has become a widely discussed topic in the recent years. What is it? What are some of the most critical soft skills and how one can develop these skills?

Rizwana Akhter

Yes, it is and a better understanding of these skills and what initiatives one needs to take makes all the difference. Soft Skills are a set of skills that enable us to make proper, effective and meaningful use of our hard skills.

For example, by training one can be a doctor, engineer, scientist, researcher, chemist, accountant, lawyer and that is their respective hard skills but to be successful in their careers and make best use of their hard skills they need soft skills like cognitive flexibility, people management, critical thinking and analytical ability to become a problem solver, language proficiency, coordination, communication skills, social and emotional intelligence and the list goes on.

I often use a similitude to make young generation understand soft skills and hard skills.

The hardware of a computer is the similitude of our area of specialization and our articulation, communication, critical and analytical thinking ability, language proficiency, cognitive flexibility, people management, leadership skills are pretty comparable to computer’s software with which we perform different works in the computer.

So like a computer’s hardware and software our hard skills and soft skills complement each other to get an output or performance. One needs these soft skills at varied combination and scale in order to succeed at work.

Ms. Rizwana Akhter speaking at a training session
Ms. Rizwana Akhter speaking at a training session

Future Startup

What are some of the most critical soft skills and how one can develop these skills?

Rizwana Akhter

There are quite a few set of critical soft skills. Early this decade or from the middle of last decade experts considered Communication, Collaboration, Creativity and Critical thinking popularly known as 4c’s as most important 21st-century soft skills.

In parallel, we also see the 7C’s as 21st century most desired soft skills which include critical thinking, Communication, Collaboration, Creativity, Cross-cultural understanding, Computing (ICT literacy), Career and learning self-reliance.

However, in recent years soft skills like analytical and critical thinking ability to become a problem solver, strategic communication, people, management, coordinating with others, cognitive flexibility, social and emotional intelligence, writing and public speaking skills, negotiation are some soft skills that are in high demand.

If our youth can develop these skills through school/college assignments, volunteer works, exposure visits, real-life problem solving, internships then it is likely to improve their chance of doing well outside of school!

Unfortunately, in our current education system students are not challenged enough at any education level to enable them to make good use of their pliable potentials; as a result, they become cognitively inflexible.

They fail to act or perform as expected even if there is the slightest change of situation or context. This is because they lose their unique ability to handle complex and novel situations or synthesize things through previous similar experience, given information, analyzing the context.

However, if students’ deliberate simple day to day self-development initiatives which may be as simple as solving a puzzle, playing tongue twisters, quiz, reading a newspaper and listening good news or travel show can make a huge difference.

Also attending career readiness workshop can help a lot.

In my upcoming workshop for Bdjobs training participants, we will provide a complete guideline for self-development i.e. how to become a self-directed learner, problem solver and globally aware.

Future Startup

We have come to a point of time where everyone has to be entrepreneurial and problem solver, how do you develop problem-solving and critical thinking skills? Is there any process or strategy that one can use?

Rizwana Akhter

Well, to become a problem solver the most important two skills one needs are analytical and critical thinking ability!

One needs to take challenges and expose oneself to real life problems as much as possible through challenging college/university assignments, volunteer works etc.

Besides, there are different cognitively challenging games and puzzles that one can play to excel in problem-solving!

Photo by Rizwana Akhter
Photo by Rizwana Akhter

Unfortunately, in our current education system students are not challenged enough at any education level to enable them to make good use of their pliable potentials; as a result, they become cognitively inflexible.

They fail to act or perform as expected even if there is the slightest change of situation or context. This is because they lose their unique ability to handl complex and novel situations or synthesize things through previous similar experience, given information, analyzing the context.

Future Startup

What is the fourth industrial revolution and what are skills our young people need to develop to prepare for the new revolution?

Rizwana Akhter

The Fourth Industrial Revolution refers (4IR) to the current unprecedented technological advancement as well as its all-encompassing impact on all aspects of our human life.

Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum who first coined this phrase, suggests that automation, machine learning, mobile computing and artificial intelligence — these are no longer futuristic concepts, they are our reality.

In short, the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) refers to the connectivity among billions of people and countless machines through the Internet of Things (IoT) which shapes up our social, political, business, production, access to information, communication, entertainment and many other areas.

Through groundbreaking technology, unprecedented processing power and speed, and massive storage capacity, data is being collected and harnessed like never before. This gives rise to Cyber-Physical production System (CPPS), a major feature of 4IR.

One of the impacts of 4IR is artificial intelligence fast replacing humans in many manual, repetitive and high volume tasks thereby changing the roles of human and their scope of works in different fields.

Future Startup

What type of people will thrive in the future workplace?

Rizwana Akhter

People with high level of creativity, problem-solving, and cognitive flexibility, social and emotional intelligence will rule the future workplace because they will outperform machines with their unique human ability to tackle a novel situation. (Note: machine can handle complex situation if it is programmed that way but it is only human who can handle ‘Novel’ new situation through his/her unique processing power of situation analysis, previous experience, and innovation)

The fundamental limitation of machine learning is it needs to learn from large volumes of past data. Thereby, they cannot handle things they have not seen or feed on many times before.

We, humans, have the ability to connect seemingly disparate threads to solve problems we have never seen.

Here is a classic example of human creativity by synthesizing seemingly disparate experiences to come up with something new and unique to solve problems or make people life easy! Percy Spencer was a physicist working on radar during World War II, when he noticed that magnetron was melting his chocolate bar, he started to think about it from a totally different angle!

As a human, he is far more cognitively flexible than the machine to connect his understanding of electromagnetic radiation with his knowledge of cooking in order to invent the microwave oven! In our everyday life, all of us have experiences to do such sort of cross-pollination thousand times in solving problems or making decisions!

If we can harness this unique ability of ours, it will certainly help us to better in the future.

It is better for graduates or job seekers to know about this era and its ongoing and upcoming challenges and strive hard to acquire required skills and competencies to keep themselves ahead of machines. The earlier they realize this and strive to acquire with necessary skills the better they will be able to prepare themselves for future.

It will be best if we redesign our primary, secondary and higher secondary curriculum to expose children to more real-life challenges, problem-solving so that they can acquire above skills from their life and keep themselves ahead of machines. Until then or alongside with it interactive- exercise -filled motivational/career readiness workshop can offer a great service to aspiring educated youth.

People with high level of creativity, problem-solving, and cognitive flexibility, social and emotional intelligence will rule the future workplace because they will outperform machines with their unique human ability to tackle a novel situation.

The fundamental limitation of machine learning is it needs to learn from large volumes of past data. Thereby, they cannot handle things they have not seen or feed on many times before.

We, humans, have the ability to connect seemingly disparate threads to solve problems we have never seen.

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How To Prepare Yourself For The Future Job Market

As we already discussed, the future of work is different. It not only getting complex, it is always becoming global and competitive.

“We do not challenge students enough at any education level to enable them to make good use of their pliable potentials.... as a result, they become cognitively inflexible. The industries, however, no longer want to spend money and time to develop fresh graduates with required soft skills instead they want readymade leaders. Therefore, there is a vacuum where a potential actor with right intervention can intervene” says Ms. Rizwana.

Ms. Rizwana teaches a day-long course titled Preparatory Training for Public and Private Jobs at Bdjobs Training. The course covers as wide as understanding fourth industrial revolution from a skill development perspective to learning about 21st-century skills to improving your employability skills to developing a better understanding of current and future job market, its trend.

Ms. Rizwana says her workshop helps students to become confident, self-directed learner, problem solver, emotionally intelligent, critical thinker and globally aware.

Ms. Rizwana is a senior development professional and youth career counselor, training/workshop facilitator having over 16 years experience in development sector particularly in education, food and livelihood security and governance projects at International NGOs (CARE, Transparency International Bangladesh, BRAC) and she has been working in the field of training helping young people to prepare for the job market for many years.

If you are looking for an opportunity to develop and improve your skills and learn about the future of work and how you can prepare yourself for that future, you may consider taking her course at Bdjobs Training.

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Notes:

1. Part of the introduction is reproduced from this interview.

2. Further reading: read our interview with bKash CHRO on the HR and the future of work in Bangladesh here.

3. Further reading: read our interview with IDLC CHRO on the HR and the future of work in Bangladesh here.

(This is an editorially independent branded content prepared by Storylab, Future Startup’s in-house branded content studio, in collaboration with Bdjobs Training.)


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