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So what do employers really want in an employee?

Well the government thinks they have the answer and amazingly, I believe they’ve got it pretty right!

How do I know? In my recent research I found this great publication, Australian Jobs 2008, which is prepared by the Department of Education, Employment & Workplace Relations.

Page 26 is devoted to listing what are called ‘employability skills’, which I would prefer to call behavioral competencies. Here’s what they are, with my own comments added.

Communication: What the government says: ‘communication skills (are) critical to customer service and workplace harmony, effective operations and productivity’. What I say: If people don’t like what you say, don’t like the way you say it or don’t respect you enough to listen to what you say, then your chances of sustained success in the workplace are limited. Enough said.

Team work: What the government says: ‘team work includes the capacity to work harmoniously with people of different contexts including age, gender, religion and political persuasion’. What I say: Nobody wants to work with egotists, narcissists, racists, tools or bores, so I suggest you be alert to any feedback, either subtle or blunt, about how you are rated by others who work with you.

Problem solving: What the government says: ‘the key aspects of problem solving include the capacity to arrive at creative and practical solutions, applying a range of strategies to solve problems and utilising the strengths of others to resolve situations in a team environment. What I say: Pessimistscomplainers and victims love to point out what’s wrong, complain about everything, focus on the negative and generally act like the world’s stuffed and everyone and everything is against them (ever wonder why Pauline Hanson was self-employed before she got into politics?). Don’t be, or become, one of those people. Please. It makes the work environment toxic, nobody will want to be around you and it quickly destroys your career prospects.

Initiative and enterprise: What the government says: ‘the ability to adapt to change, develop effective work practices, identify opportunities not obvious to others and translate ideas into action are seen as being important by employers’ . What I say: Don’t wait to be told what to do – ask, make suggestions, take action and live by the motto ‘it’s better to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission’.

Planning and organising: What the government says: ‘employees who can manage priorities by setting timelines, coordinating tasks and working systematically are highly valued’. What I say: What use are you to anybody, anywhere, if you cannot complete the work you said you would complete within the time you said you would complete it?

Self management: What the government says: ‘self-management includes having a personal vision and clear goals, evaluating one’s own performance at work, seeking continuous self-improvement to enhance performance, having clarity and confidence and taking responsibility’. What I say: You spend one third of your waking hours at work each week, so you may as well use every opportunity to accomplish something worthwhile, no matter if it’s only you that notices. ‘The greater danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it’ – Michelangelo (Renaissance Artist).

Learning: What the government says: ‘the most important aspect of this skill is proactive involvement in training and learning opportunities in the workplace as well as in more formal settings, such as university or vocational education and short courses’. What I say: This is the most important skill in the workplace of the 21st Century. A vast amount of change is occurring everywhere, all the time and the pace of change is only going to increase. Your competitive advantage in the workplace is being able to learn faster than your peers.

Technology: What the government says: ‘a basic understanding of word processing, spreadsheets and Internet/email is now seen as essential by many employers. In more labour intensive jobs, the ability to use new equipment is seen as essential to effectiveness at work’. What I say: If you are unwilling or unable to keep up-to-date with technological developments in your job or profession, then I suggest you apply for ‘STOP’ and ‘GO’ sign-holder jobs. ‘I predict there will be one thousand times more technological change in the 21st century than there was in the 20th century’ – Ray Kurzweil (Futurist).

This list of behavioural competencies is also a great check list for another thing – the training and development needs of employees.

As much as these competencies will enhance the chances of people gaining the jobs they desire, the ongoing development of each of these eight competencies in its employees, will be critical for an organisation committed to meeting its financial, cultural and environmental goals.

Next time a candidate asks you about how they can get ahead in the world of work, you might give them this list to consider.

Next time a client asks you how they can get ahead of their competitors in hiring, developing and retaining the most effective employees, you might also give them this list to consider.

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Gary Ryan


Hi! You are spot on regarding the importance of Employability Skills and how they can enhance your career. You are also correct about how these can help you to identify training & development gaps.

All this is why I have just published What Really Matters For Young Professionals! How To Master 15 Practices To Accelerate Your Career.

The book focusses upon people in the first ten years of their career and explains, in simple and practical terms, how Young Professionals can enhance their employability.


Gary Ryan

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