So, you have made good educational choices until now and will soon be rewarded with an academic degree. That is great news. Or is it?
With corporates expecting higher standards of intellectual competence and soft skills from millennial recruits, the college education will no longer be the chief recruiting filter as it used to be.
In a recent survey conducted by Harvard Business School, 93% of employers surveyed said that “a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly and solve complex problems is more important than acquiring an academic degree”. However, alarmingly large number of millennial recruits in India do not find themselves equipped with the skills needed to be successful in careers of tomorrow. As per another survey conducted by HBR Ascend in India, 40% of respondents (millennial fresh recruits) said their biggest barrier to performing more effectively in the workplace is ‘excessive workload’. Both surveys indicate that while technical skills are important, millennial recruits need to enter the workplace with a parallel set of capabilities and soft skills that go beyond classrooms.
While one may contest that, there seems no difference between academic skills and employment skills; the truth of the matter is that only a smart application of knowledge and keen demonstration of soft skills in real-world settings will pave any millennial’s success in this world of constant disruption. Moreover, if you are the millennial who aspires to be a key asset to any organization of the 21st century then you will need to become critically conscious of the skill set that recruiters expect of you.
Every job demands traditional soft skills like leadership, communication, collaboration, and self-management. Research shows that millennials tend to excel at these or, at the very least, know they should. Nevertheless, recruiters expect millennial recruits to complement these traditional skills with other 21st century skills such as Learning Agility, Focus and Design Thinking.
So what are these 21st-century skills? Moreover, how you cultivate them while staying engaged in your academics?
1. Learning Agility:
The illiterates of the 21st century will not be the ones who cannot read and write but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn. Hence, those who are keen to learn and ready to adapt will have the best chance at success. Learning Agility is the ability to face challenges, learn new information and apply it in new situations. Proving that you can quickly adapt to new ideas will differentiate you as a progressive millennial from those who operate primarily from their comfort zone or rest on their current knowledge and rely on old information to coast through their careers. Today’s corporate environment moves fast and millennials not willing to adapt will be left behind. By actively adopting the idea of learning something new every day, you can build your learning agility. A key way to foster and teach yourself learning agility within your academic years is to pursue side projects, which are small but demand real deliverables. You can start a learning project that can be delivered within a month but makes sure that a failure is an option. You will not learn if you cannot fail. The ownership and management of your project from start-to-finish will provide you timeless lessons for new and improved ways of working. By becoming more adaptable and interested in learning, you can brace yourself to take on a brave new world.
2. Distraction-free focus:
Technology and hyper-connectivity have not only increased accessibility of information for millennials but has also made them accustomed to online distractions. A near constant eye on social media and an urge to be the first to share and comment on online platforms result in shallow concentration levels. Superficial attention to many things rather than concentrating on any one task has become the second nature of many millennials. This undoubtedly has created a high demand for and short supply of millennial recruits capable of concentrating for the entire workday. Evidently, millennials who cultivate this skill of distraction-free focus, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive. “Focus is the new IQ,” says Georgetown computer science professor Cal Newport, the author of ‘Deep Work’. To cultivate this skill, you will need to start with a conscious effort and a deliberate practice to focus your attention for extended periods. You can begin by scheduling a period of deep work (1.5 – 4 hours) each day, often prior to other obligations. Within this period, intentionally unplug yourself from your devices and spend silent hours working on productive tasks. If this seems daunting at first, take the support of your family and peers. Remember the key is to take small but committed steps towards the distraction-free focus. Make this habit your priority and you sure will be able to focus on higher levels of concentration.
3. Design Thinking:
From blogging to personal branding to freelancing, millennials have an undeniable entrepreneurial spirit. While millennials are fully aware of how to use the connected age to brand themselves and make money, it is imperative for millennial recruits to employ Design Thinking to create value for their end-users (the customers). Design Thinking manifests focused alignment to customer needs, which in turn leads to quality results. A design mindset sits at the core of Design Thinking. With a design mindset, you can design the way you lead, manage, create and innovate. A design mindset is not problem-focused; it is solution-focused and action-oriented. It involves both analysis and imagination. To nurture a design mindset and your design thinking skills, you can start by attending a design-thinking boot camp, probably led by someone who could inspire and bring a new perspective to your way of thinking. Next, you can engage yourself in learning the core concepts of the industry of your choice and understand its evolution and its emerging best practices. Additionally, you can stop, observe and consider good designs each time you come across one. A special ingredient for a design thinking is the presence of human-centered approach. To develop this approach, you can create human-centered experiences for yourself by interacting with diverse groups from your campus, understanding their needs and directing yourself to collaborative solutions.
By building learning agility, focus and design thinking you can prepare yourself for a seamless transformation from campus to corporate as well as gain a competitive edge in the eyes of your recruiters. As every business aims to flourish in today’s VUCA world, (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) now is just the right time for the 21st-century workforce – the millennials to cultivate these critical skills and outshine their era.