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The Five Components of Career Durability

Today's post comes to us from Workforce Institute board member Alexandra Levit.

A new DeVry University study conducted for Labor Day found that at a time when American workers should feel recognized and celebrated, more than a third felt their employers could take or leave them.

Thirty-six percent of DeVry respondents said that based on their employers' actions since the start of the pandemic, they believe their employers view them as disposable. This perception resonated  more with younger workers than older ones, with 47 percent of Gen Z-ers (born after 1996) and 42 percent of millennials (born 1980-95) saying they felt disposable compared with 28 percent of Gen X-ers (born 1964-79) and 32 percent of baby boomers (born 1946-63).

Respondents agreed that in today's workforce, tenure, education, and industry experience do not matter as much as hard work,  meeting goals and deadlines, and having a positive attitude.

If you're an employee, being disposable is clearly not the ideal status as it makes you vulnerable to layoffs, consolidations, or random turns in your marketplace. Fortunately, you can protect yourself from natural evolutions and future disruptions by focusing on your career durability, or your ability to sustain gainful employment over a long period of time. The five components of career durability are:

  1. Soft skills are interpersonal attributes that you need to collaborate successfully with others at work. We've written about them in the past at The Workforce Institute. As machines take over more work tasks over the next 10 years, soft skills like empathy, intuition, diplomacy, judgment, and problem solving will set human employees apart. You can hone yours through personality assessments/recommendations, classic business books such as those by Stephen Covey and Dale Carnegie, and on-the-job experience.
  • Hard skills are those in a specific area for which learning can be measured (i.e. you either know it or you don't). If you're applying for a given job, employers will expect you to perform the requisite functions. For instance, if you're a phlebotomist, you must know how to insert an IV. You can acquire the hard skills you need via degree programs, online courses, certifications/microcredentials, and employer training.
  • Applied technology skills represent theability to leverage people, processes, data, and devices to do a job more efficiently. In all occupations, digital technology exists to augment human work. But do you know, for example, what software is available in your role and how to use it? You might increase your base of applied technology skills with employer training, mentorship, solo exploration, and investigation.
  • Institutional knowledge is industry specific expertise gained through experience and/or tenure. Organizations are facing a brain drain caused by the retiring baby boomers. Some things can only be learned by facing similar scenarios multiple times over a career lifespan. You typically acquire institutional knowledge by staying with one company or in one industry and gaining cross-functional and adjacent expertise via job shadowing, informational interviewing, and volunteering.
  • A growth mindset is the positive attitude that influences how an individual sees their world, and that motivates them to learn and change. Today's learner must be continuous and self-directed, and curiosity, agility, and drive to improve will win the day. You can enhance your growth mindset through self, peer, and manager evaluations, acceptance of failure, implementation of constructive feedback, intrapreneurship, and inspirational books and podcasts.

Employee actions are only one piece of the puzzle, however. What if you're an employer, and you're rightfully concerned that so many of your talented employees feel disposable? Improved benefits and greater pandemic safety measures are essential, but don't get to the heart of the disposability issue. The key  is to show appreciation early and often. The DeVry survey respondents indicated that the most effective ways are through pay increases (69 percent), awards (34 percent), and greater schedule flexibility (30 percent).

With Labor Day in our rearview mirror, now's the time to take the right steps to make employment beneficial and as satisfying as possible for all sides.

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