How to develop a skills mastery mindset

Jan 27, 2017 06.15PM |
 

by Suhaile Md

WHAT’S the secret to career success? That’s a perennial question and these days, skills mastery has come to be accepted as a key component of a successful climb up the career ladder.

But what exactly is “skills mastery”?

To put it simply, it is a mindset – of continually striving towards greater excellence through knowledge, application and experience. Skills mastery is more than having the right paper qualifications and being good at what you do now.

We discuss three important areas of mastery:

 

Mastery of learning 

The mastery of learning is not just about intellectual humility and the willingness to learn, but also about building on existing knowledge bases and not throwing them away.

Yes, there are jobs today that did not exist yesterday – social media marketing for example. But that does not mean that you have to jump to an entirely different field to be relevant.

For example, a brick-and-mortar shoe salesman’s job may be at risk due to e-commerce. But he may want to capitalise on his knowledge of various shoe products to learn more about purchasing for the e-commerce company and not necessarily try to pick up coding skills to run the website.

Not everybody is able to pick up entirely different skill sets. And age is also a factor here. The young are better able to learn something completely new. But adults have an edge over younger employees – existing knowledge.

“If learning can be assimilated into an existing knowledge case, advantage tilts to the old,” said Dr Timothy Salthouse, Director of The Cognitive Aging Laboratory at the University of Virginia, in The Economist earlier this month (Jan 14).

So the idea of skills mastery here, is to pick up a new but related skill that extends from your existing knowledge base and not from scratch. 

Skills mastery is about striving to be the best in what you can do, so as to innovate better and progress. It’s hard to innovate when you have to build up your knowledge base again.

Which is why SkillsFuture has its fellowship programme for Singaporeans with at least 10 years of experience in the same industry or similar job function, possess deep expertise, and wish to upgrade further. Fellows will get $10,000 to spend on courses relevant to their work. This year, 30 such fellowships will be given out and the number is set to increase up to 100 annually at a later date.

While not everyone can be a fellow, there are many affordable skills-based modular courses at post-secondary institutions here for the rest of us. From customer relationship management to manpower resource management, these part-time courses courses are designed for working adults.

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Mastery of industry

How do you know what to learn if you don’t know what skills are going to be relevant in the future?

The e-commerce scene in Singapore for instance, is expected to grow to US$5.4 billion (S$7.46 billion) by 2025, up from US$1 billion in 2015, according to a report by Temasek and Google last year. The up-to-date brick-and-mortar retail worker should then work towards acquiring skills relevant to e-commerce, whether it’s purchasing or online marketing.

The shipbuilding industry has also been taking a hit. Just last year, Keppel Shipyard, one of Singapore’s largest, cut 35 per cent of its workforce, which is over 10,000 workers. Such changes do not happen overnight. Workers alert to such changes can prepare beforehand to absorb the shock better.

While there’s no need to know details like stock price movements and so on, a general awareness of industry trends is important in developing skills mastery.

Students about to enter the workforce may have the largest gap in industry related knowledge. Fresh polytechnic and ITE graduates may want to enrol in the SkillsFuture Earn and Learn programme. The work-study programme enables them to learn skills that are relevant to their industry, while drawing a regular paycheck. The certification they acquire along the way would also be recognised by other companies in the industry.

 

Mastery of social skills

Many jobs today are lost not just to lower wage workers overseas, but also to machines and automation.

By 2035, over a third of jobs held in Singapore are at risk of automation, according to a 2015 report by the Centre for Strategic Futures, Prime Minister’s Office.

The solution to securing future job prospects would be to develop social skills like negotiation and social perceptiveness. The labour market rewards workers with social skills according to a study last August (2016) by Professor David Deming of Harvard University. Between 1980 and 2012, the proportion of jobs that required high social skills increased by nearly 10 percentage points while math-intensive roles that did not require much use of social skills fell by about 3 percentage points in the same period.

The reason is that machines cannot read emotions, build consensus and basically, be human. So even though the study was conducted in the United States, the lessons for Singapore in the face of automation, is still relevant.

Again, new graduates are at a disadvantage when it comes to acquiring social skills at the workplace. Which is why they should take up internships, to start to acquire social skills at the workplace before they formally enter their careers. By 2020 all polytechnics and ITEs will have enhanced internships integrated into their core curriculum. Enhanced because there will be clearer learning outcomes and closer interactions between industry partners and educational institutes in developing the internships.

In a nutshell, acquiring skills alone does not lead to mastery. There’s a need to know what skills are relevant in the future through understanding industry trends, building on – and not discarding – existing knowledge to be able to innovate and having the social skills to get work done well.

 

This article is part of a series on SkillsFuture, in collaboration with MOE and SSG. Read the other pieces here:

 

Featured image by Pixabay user congerdesign. (CC0 1.0)

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