Future proofing: what, why and how

Written by Jenny Sloan, Careers Consultant at The Careers Service

We’re living longer, which means there’s every chance we’ll be working longer too. Today’s students and graduates will have multiple careers that may span up to six decades. During this time, our ways of working, learning and living will change and we’ll be expected to evolve with these changes.

While having a good degree can be a great foundation for success, it won’t be enough. Fast-moving advancements in technology, AI and automation makes for an increasingly competitive job market. In order for us to stay employable and relevant, learning cannot stop after university.     

This is where future proofing comes in.

We can future proof ourselves and our employability by upskilling in response to in-demand skills.  When we find ourselves in times of sudden change, as we are now, it’s a good idea to look at our strengths and interests, and consider how versatile our current skillsets are. Even if we choose to specialise in a particular field, we should prepare ourselves to move jobs, companies and even industries in line with labour market demands and our own changing professional interests.

It’s never been more important to nurture and cultivate our skills, ensuring they are flexible, agile and transferable. In this way, we need to regularly audit the skills that we have, practice the ones we need to strengthen, and learn new ones altogether. 

Whether you’re a student or recent graduate, we can all fall into the trap of becoming preoccupied with immediate tasks, like assignments, work deadlines or even just life admin. But by dedicating a certain amount of time every week our professional development, we make upskilling a priority and a habit. It will also make it easier for us to adapt to sudden changes.

“Making time to diversify your skillset, knowledge and understanding is as important as finding time to complete existing commitments as you never know what’s around the corner and how you will need to adapt to respond effectively”, says Anna, Employability Consultant at The Careers Service. “The greater the range of skills and the broader the base of your knowledge, the better placed you will be to do so”.

There are a lot of things you can do online and at home to upskill and future proof yourself, but it’s okay if you don’t know where to start. Sarah, Employability Executive in the Careers Service, says “To get thinking and narrow it down a bit, I’ve been watching short videos and reading quick articles about different skills and ideas”.

To help you get thinking about which skills you need to strengthen, have a look at our top three examples:

  1. Digital

No longer exclusive to the IT and marketing sectors, digital skills are now a must-have in everything from teaching and healthcare, to sales, banking and research.

In fact, we as a Careers Service have had to quickly adopt a new, digital way of working in response to Covid-19. Penney, Careers Consultant for the Faculty of Science and Engineering says, “I have been developing my digital skills in order to support the University to deliver its service to our students and graduates”. And what does she think of the importance of harvesting a digital mind-set in our fast moving world? It comes down to personal and professional development. “I’m using applications regularly now that I hadn’t even heard of three weeks ago! Developing these skills has allowed me to maintain connectivity both professionally and personally… For me, it’s about having a new challenge, trying to find something that will enhance your practice or improve the quality of your life”.

Chances are you already have some great digital skills, you just need to effectively translate them onto your CV. To give them a boost, have a look at Google Digital Garage, for free online courses in data, tech and digital marketing.

2. Coding

All of our online activity is only possible because of coding. From Googling something or watching Netflix, to sending an email or taking a selfie, all applications and software are written in code.

There are lots of different languages so it’s important to do your research before you start. Teresa, UoM graduate and Student Advisor at the Careers Service, decided to begin with HTML, “I’ve decided to spend more time learning how to build my own webpage using HTML. My end goal is to learn CSS and JavaScript.” So, how is it going? “So far I’m finding it really fun”, Teresa reveals, “and I think it’s important to have a basic understanding of at least one coding language because we’re moving towards a more digital world”.

You can find a plethora of free online courses on Skillshare, Code Academy and Udemy, but if all this sounds a bit too technical, begin by familiarising yourself with Microsoft Office, which is an important skill valued by graduate employers. That’s why, alongside HTML, Teresa is also revisiting Microsoft Office to find out how to use different packages more effectively, “I think it is a valuable transferable skill”.

3. Communication

It’s important not to underestimate the importance of strong communication skills. In fact, they are often first in line on the list of essential skills for any given graduate role. Communication skills are multifaceted, and include more than written and verbal communication. They also encapsulate our presentation, negotiation and persuasive skills, as well as our aptitude for active listening and ability to adapt communication style to suit different audiences. For STEM students and graduates, they will include scientific communication, and for postgraduates, sharing your research with non-academic audiences.

Our communication skills pages can help you to start thinking about the communication skills you already have, and how these may be asked on application forms and interviews. Then you can focus on enhancing these skills through volunteering, networking and online courses.

Finally… However you decide to upskill, there’s no time like the present, when a lot of us will be indoors more than usual. Learning a new skill will not only help us to future proof ourselves, it can also be a good cure for boredom! As Sarah concludes, “I think it’s really important to use some of this time to learn something new – or improve some great skills you already have – as a way to challenge [yourself], keep [your] brain engaged and break what might be the monotony of self-isolation!”.

Careers advice Postgraduate Undergraduate

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