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Employability skill – a leading force for promoting clients

by Mohammad Habib Ullah

Promoting Internationally Educated Professionals (IEPs) to Canadian employers is a challenging task. In a not for profit setting, employment counsellors and job developers use various techniques and methods to help IEPs find meaningful employment. Internationally educated professionals bring various employability skills, which include both soft and hard skills. Employment counsellors and job developers need to be able to identify these skills for promoting them to employers.

 

Most career professionals continuously learn about internationally educated professionals’ employability skills through regular interactions with clients. However, skills-focused interactions can enable them to understand clients’ skills more easily through some common activities, such as workshops, one-on-one counselling, resume critiquing, mock interviews, technical presentation, role playing etc. Employability skills can be put under the two broad categories of soft and hard skills.

Soft and hard skills defined

The Conference Board of Canada listed the following soft skills that are needed to enter, stay in, and progress in the world of work (Canada Conference Board, 2009):

Fundamental skills: ability to communicate, manage information, use numbers and think and solve problems.

 

Personal management skills: ability to demonstrate positive attitudes and behaviours, responsibility, adaptability, continuous learning and working safely.

 

Teamwork skills: ability to work with others, participate in projects and tasks.

 

In general, people may acquire fundamental skills just by completing high school. Personal management skills can be gathered through education and work experience. Finally, team work skills can be acquired in workplace, sports, community or even in educational settings. However, some internationally educated professionals may have issues with their communication skills because of their international educational background and professional experience. In that case, they need to improve their fundamental skills first.

 

Alberta Human Resources and Employment (2005) identified several necessary skills for immigrant job seekers, which include language proficiency, work search skills, and access to necessary information. Career professionals may help clients attain these skills before trying to market them to employers.
Identifying soft and hard employability skills

We often talk about soft (behavioural) and hard (technical) skills of clients. Both soft and hard skills can be identified in workshop settings or through one-on-one counselling, reviewing resumes, mock interviews, technical presentations, role playing and many more similar activities. Career professionals may use the trait-and-factor career counselling technique for identifying employability skills of clients. In this model, the counsellor collects clinical (using interview techniques) and statistical (often using standardized assessment) data and then synthesizes these data to draw inferences about the client’s strengths and weaknesses (Niles, Harris-Bowlsbey, 2005).

 

Career professionals need to ask specific questions to the clients in order to obtain information about hard skills. For example, if a client has experience working as a Database Administrator, the counsellor may ask what operating systems the clients used – UNIX or LINUX. When meeting with a client having mechanical design experience the counsellor may ask what design software was used, for example – AutoCAD or SolidWorks. Employability skills (both hard and soft skills) can be identified through the following settings/activities:

In a workshop setting:

During workshops, employable skills can be identified simply by asking participants to introduce themselves with brief descriptions of the followings:

– Profession, achievements, hard skills
– Years of experience and education

While listening to the introductions, the facilitator can also learn about following soft skills:

– Communication skills
– Command over language
– Ability to articulate
– Self marketing skills

One on one interview:

Employment counsellors/job developers can ask questions in order to identify both hard and soft skills during one-on-one interviews. For example:

– Hard skills: What software did you use to process accounts receivables and payables?
– Soft skills: How did you coordinate the functions of the whole project team consisting of the mechanical, electrical and civil engineers?

Mock interviews:

When mock interview questions are prepared on the basis of job postings that the candidate is really interested in, the answers may provide a realistic projection of both the soft and hard skills. For example:

– Hard skills: What software did you use for designing high-rise building structures?
– Soft skills: How would you resolve a conflict in the workplace when you see your supervisor is wrong about the time estimation for completing the project?
Resume critiquing:
While critiquing resumes, the consultants can identify both hard and soft skills simply by asking for clarification. For example:

– Hard skills: Can you describe what software you used for scheduling staff?
– Soft skills: How did you resolve issues with your project team members?

Listing employability skills on resumes
It is equally important for the career professional to list the employability skills on clients’ resumes once they are identified. The following methods can be used for listing clients’ employability skills.
1. Checking job postings thoroughly:
The counsellors and clients need to thoroughly check the job postings for properly listing employable skills on resumes. The key words and necessary technical terms should be identified first in order to understand the job requirements.

The first thing career professionals need to do while targeting a resume is to check the job posting (if there is any) carefully so that the key requirements of the job can be identified.
This could include both soft and hard skills.

v     Example (Soft skills): Communication, team building skills
v     Example (Hard skills): Mechanical designing using SolidWorks

 

2. Checking company website for relevant information:

In absence of job postings, career professionals can check company websites for finding key components of the job. Most websites include a description of the company, its products and services. Careful review of the website may enable career professionals to identify key requirements.

3. Listing employability skills on resume

Once key requirements are identified, employability skills can be listed on the resume in the following ways:

v     Key skills should be listed on the profile of the candidate with reference to how the client used them, when, in what capacity etc. keeping in pace with both the job posting and the chronological resume.
v     Example: The profile may include a statement, “Obtained over 5 years experience in supervising construction sites for high rise residential and commercial buildings by working for XYZ Inc.”

The employment history will support the profile statements in the following way:
Site Supervisor             May 2006 – April 2008                 XYZ Inc., Manila, Philippines

v     Supervised construction site for a two-million dollar project for high-rise residential and commercial buildings.
v     Planned and scheduled activities of other staff including electrical and mechanical engineers.
v     Coordinated the task among various team members for designing and installing plumbing, fire alarm systems, electrical wiring etc.

Career professionals need to understand the clients’ skills clearly in order to be able to market them to employers and helping them get interview opportunities. Proper listing of those skills on resumes and targeting resumes are key to attracting the attention of employers. A collaborative and organized effort between career professionals and clients can ensure proper identification of employability skills – which may eventually lead clients to meaningful employment.

Reference:
Alberta Human Resources and Employment. (2006). What works: Career-building strategies for people from diverse groups. Alberta  

Niles, S., Harris-Bowlsbey, J. (2005). Career development interventions in the21st century. New Jersy: Merril Prentice Hall.

The Conference Board of Canada. (2009). Employability skills 2000+. Ottawa

Habib Ullah, M.Ed., M.Phil. (Business Administration) works with ACCES Employment as a Project Coordinator, Engineering Connections program. Previously he worked as Employment Marketing and Outreach Consultant, Job Developer, Employment Consultant and Labour-market Researcher. He can be reached at habib.ed@gmail.com

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