Building skills

From the moment we are born, we start learning skills that will help us to survive within the world that we live in. There are many phases in the building of skills. We learn many basic skills in our school years. For technical staff, there are often basic studies at a tertiary education level as they aim to upskill in their selective field of technical expertise. For many technical staff however, there is often a slow decline in the amount of new technical skills. People can become complacent with their skill sets. But this decline should perhaps be refocused by the managers of technical personal to ensure that an organisation can benefit from:

  • regular assessment of skills that are already held by the technical staff to ensure that they are performing at a maximised level of efficiency.
  • regular assessment of skills that would compliment existing skills already held by technical staff to assist in a number of negative areas such as: skills shortages in one field and a glut in another, a reduction in available staff that are suitable to undertake skilled work, etc.
  • regular assessment of skills that would be needed to raise people through the ranks of the organisation in order to provide suitable candidates for future promotion to more senior positions within an organisation, or possibly within another organisation (not necessarily a rival organisation).

Indeed the key to all of these points is that technical staff need regular assessment of their skills. But to be honest with you, many organisations undertake this regular assessment with the focus away from identifying what is necessarily best for the worker, and more towards what the manager or supervisor is likely to believe is best for the manager or supervisor (in some cases manager / supervisors decisions can be counter productive to the organisation as a whole). My personal experience has shown that this is more likely to occur for a range or reasons ranging from the petty and vindictive through to an organisation’s limited ability at attracting resources. Often in technical organisations (particularly in periods where technical skills are in high demand with a limited pool of suitable candidates) there is no other person who would be available and suitable to perform certain work if a person was to be promoted or shifted to a different part of the organisation. The response therefore is to make it difficult for a technical person to leave, through mechanisms such as: denying the opportunity to expand the technical persons skill set into other career streams, offering to increase the pay of the person should that person suddenly decide to leave the organisation (this often happens when a person is already fed up with not being able to obtain appropriate skills or experience, or yes even recognition for existing capability until push comes to shove).

However the reality is that many people will have several careers within their lifetime. Additionally people will always want to be paid more either through wage increases, or through progression either within or outside an organisation. So the concept of holding someone back against their wishes in order for a manager or supervisor to squeeze more work out for them rather than let a persons skills grow, will not necessarily work for very long. Some reasons why people will seek a career change include:

  • Feeling held back or ignored
  • Boredom / not challenged
  • Need to obtain a promotion that does not currently exist within their current organisation
  • Difficulty with other staff / negative office environment
  • Simply the wrong job for that person
  • Lack of coordination in work that is produced
  • Others

There are many different technical skills for people to learn as they travel through their working life. These skills are more challenging mentally, but can also be easier to obtain that non-technical skills because technical skills are often based on absolute rules. In road design and design review there are the following skill set streams, and within those skill set streams there are many different levels of skills to obtain:

Technical streams include:

  • Computer Aided Design (CAD) skills
  • Road design skills using a design computer package (eg. MX, 12D, Civil CAD, etc)
  • Geographic Information Systems (GIS) skills
  • Drainage design skills
  • Utilities design skills

Non-technical streams are often skills that are subtle and are picked up in an informal way. However these skills can be just as critical as having technical skills. In many ways non-technical skills are likely to be difficult to easily obtain, because they are often based around social skills. Non-technical skills include:

  • Attending meetings (including having the ability to present ideas, argue on ideas, form judgements on the fly, work with people to transform a project, involve others, accept when you are wrong, etc)
  • Dealing with telephone calls from stakeholders and members of the public (this seems simple enough, but explaining the right message can be difficult when these people are not likely to agree with you, also remaining calm and logical can be tricky)
  • Presenting your ideas to others at large events like conferences
  • Record keeping (sounds simple enough, but most people do not do this well, it is usually desperately recorded at the end of a project rather than using a systematic approach throughout the project to record information, and have an appropriate method for information retrieval)
  • Dealing with subordinates (often technically skilled people make less than perfect managers as the misplaced thought of management is that if you have a high level of technical skills then you should be able to manage technical people well)
  • Dealing with peers (how you contribute to the wealth of knowledge amongst your peers and obtain the recognition that you need from those peers about your level of knowledge being suitable for their use)
  • Managing staff (this is not necessarily the same as dealing with subordinates, because this assumes that you are able to influence staff under your direct control. It comes to the core of what sort of manager you will be and is reflective of your own personality type)

While building a skill base is important, it goes hand in hand with building experience. Experience transforms the elements that you understand as part of your skill set and makes it relevant to the real world. Read more about building experience.