Employability: Are You Nurturing the Future You?

The world of work is changing. Make sure you stay relevant.

Are you ready for work?

The world changes, constantly. The English language, for example, currently comprises an estimated one million words. In Shakespeare’s time there were 250,000. The Bard, literally, would be illiterate were he alive today – and out of a job.

Smart skills are in short supply

Digital transformation is disrupting almost every industry, and in many there is a growing gap between the skillsets of the available talent pool, and those required. Manufacturing, for example, is maturing within a definition of Industry 4.0 – the fourth wave of industrialisation in the last 250 years. But ‘smart factory’ jobs are unfilled, and industry bodies project a shortfall of over 2m skilled workers by 2030 in the US alone.

In some industries, then, the jobs are there – but the people aren’t.

As the future of jobs is increasingly automated, so, too, jobs of the future are difficult to imagine. Today, call centres, warehouses and related logistics hubs are often operated by intelligent machines. Modern factories routinely have robotics or a form of ‘cobot’ – a collaborative function partly fulfilled by a robot, partly by a person. Smart systems extend into the legal field – and even medicine, where some studies show that artificial intelligence (AI) is more effective than clinicians at certain diagnoses.

As the amount of data, and its required analysis, extrapolates, so intelligent machines and AI will take over the work of management, too – as much as 69% of it by 2024, according to international research and consultancy firm, Gartner.

Thoughtful research points out, however, that technological advances create new industries, and new jobs – historically, usually more than the number lost to the disruption. The onus is on us to think ahead. To commence our adaptation and upweight our employability factor, today.

A more competitive you

Employability has a wider context: more than at any time in human history, you are likely to change occupation – multiple times in your working life. (There are socio-economic megatrends which also point to a lengthier working life; even, for some, the impossibility of retirement.) A blend of skills, competencies and attitudinal attributes will be necessary. As far as possible, these should be transferable.

The overlap between your interpersonal skills and the workplace has deepened. Poor at communicating and connecting with larger groups? Work at it – or you may struggle to manage a team. Introvert by nature? Absolutely fine – but capitalise, consciously, on digital technologies to network and broadcast your ideas, with confidence. Battle with key decisions? Commit to understanding and mitigating the subconscious factors influencing judgements, such as our emotions and cognitive biases.

Soft skills

The pandemic has illustrated to many employers that remote work and virtual teams have upsides, such as office rental reductions and an ability to recruit worldwide. In some industries, this mode of employment will become more prevalent, and possibly permanent. Familiarity with connectivity tools and digital collaboration platforms will be vital. So, too will be specific communication skills to navigate meetings, administrative competency to adhere to documentation protocols, and negotiation skills to resolve conflicts resolution and to drive KPI achievement across different geographies, time zones, and cultures.

These forms of soft skills are the tip of a large iceberg. The ability to collaborate, to network, to summon known resources and find new ones – these are the tangential abilities required in almost all careers today. And they will encroach further, to become core, crucial competencies.

Fuel for thought

“Being curious fuels our appetite to learn. Wanting to learn is far more important than being right,” says Sir Jonathan Ive. Ive can best be described as a polymath: architectural designer, industrialist, Chancellor of the UK’s Royal College of Art, problem-solver for Apple founder Steve Jobs, and until recently the chief product engineer at Apple.

Realistically, not many of us can be polymaths, who are deeply knowledgeable in a number of diverse fields, usually through immersive, autodidactic study. But making a commitment to curiosity, and practising multifaceted learning is, by definition, autodidactic. Choosing to make a habit of gaining knowledge is a characteristic of a polymath, and this is certainly achievable.

Think you’re up to speed?

Almost every moment in everyday life we use objects with limited or no understanding of their composition or how they work. Do you know what a can is made from, or how a can-opener works? Could you explain the mechanics of a zipper, or a lock on a door?

The same principle may apply in the business world, and to the specific aspects of your job. When you nod along as your boss calls for a process to be ‘streamlined’, do you know what that means (do you think he or she knows?). With regard to your personal finances, you have probably read about hedge funds – and most likely have some of your savings in these. Do you know what this form of investment is?

Technical expertise is invaluable, to any employer. Evaluate, honestly, your grasp of crucial concepts in your field, and prioritise deeper understanding. You will strengthen your delivery, and be better poised to create and capitalise upon opportunities.

Listening to others – and to yourself

Possibly one of the most underrated workplace attributes is the ability to listen.

This is not as easy as it may seem. Team dynamics play out in meetings: dominant voices, quick but flawed consensus for the sake of getting back to desks promptly, unengaged participation. Individual conversations are weighted with preconceptions: tone-deaf interpretation when speaking to a very junior colleague, or overly eager – and a tendency to over-analyse – when taking instructions from a superior. Awareness of our own unconscious biases, and recognising those of others, is a skill worth developing to enable clearer and deeper understanding of workplace problems and possible solutions.

A powerful voice is one many of us are not tuned into, or often ignore. Our inner voice, or intuition, is an important judgement and decision-making tool. Not without reason is it referred to as a sixth sense. As a subconscious amalgamation of our experiences, past lessons and deep cognition, it represents an invaluable guide if we pay it attention.

Leaders and managers should also cultivate emotional fortitude, the capability of recognising one’s emotional state and identifying its influence upon decision-making. Rather than attempting to mask or even alter an emotion – futile, given that emotions are unconscious – fortitude is demonstrated when the emotion is embraced, allowing a more careful and appropriate response. Instead of summarily summoning a team back to the workplace, for example, a manager might pause to consider the source of her frustration, or even anger. Are virtual team meetings dysfunctional, perhaps partly due to technology glitches? By holding up her emotion for examination, she can better understand the root problem. In this case, alternative solutions, such as improved technology, present themselves.

Self-belief, and the link to achievement

Stanford psychologist Albert Bandura pioneered social learning theory in the late-1970s. His main work centred around what he defined as self-efficacy, the belief in our ability to accomplish a specific task or role.

Various factors influence self-efficacy, including our cumulative, successful accomplishment of related tasks, and the positive affirmation of others. From an employer’s point of view, evidence of an employee’s self-belief underlines their core capability and potential, because Bandura’s and subsequent studies closely correlate performance with inherent self-belief.

So, employability is enhanced when we have self-efficacy. Nurture your confidence: build the right habit structures; turn small gains into larger wins; associate with people who believe in you.

Brand ‘you’

Perhaps the simplest question to interrogate your employability is to ask, “Would I employ me?”

How you see yourself is self-image; how you project to others is, in marketing speak, your brand. Both are vital.

Your brand is a composite of achievements, personality, visibility, and cumulative interactions with others.  The degree to which you build and nurture your brand is a personal choice, but understanding the interrelationship of these four issues can assist to shape your brand accordingly. In finance? Your academic qualifications are probably foremost to showcase, using a high-profile business medium such as LinkedIn. In the talent recruitment industry? LinkedIn provides leads, but it may be more important to create a vibrant, dynamic image and expand connections.

Hard work needn’t be hard

If you choose a job you love, you’ll never work a day in your life, goes the saying.

It’s a cliché, but finding this association to a passion may hold the secret to lasting employability. After all, companies seek energy and enthusiasm, and this shines through wholeheartedly when someone is dedicated – even devoted – to a field.

Exploring a passion also opens doors. Senegal-born Khaby Lame went from being a lowly-paid factory worker in Italy to a multi-millionaire internet personality, currently ranked as TikTok’s fourth most-followed worldwide content creator. Lame’s story is inspirational, but the seed of his career reinvention was a love for making people laugh. “Try to think of work as productive play,” advises Matt Haig in his book Notes on a Nervous Planet.

Integrity will always top the list

Commenting on the fraught discussions at the recent meeting of G7 nations in Cornwall, England, a diplomat underlined the importance of trust: “The lesson of this week is that…there is no point in writing new Atlantic charters which depend on mutual trust, mutual confidence and the rule of law when you are operating as chancers.”

The lesson applies as much to the workplace as it does to international affairs.


Finally, employability also means having resilience. Look after your mental and physical health. Know that the act of worrying tricks us into thinking we’re productive whilst it actually reduces our mental acuity.

So, work smart today. Then, get ready for tomorrow. Enhance your employability.

Three top tips to enhance your employability:

Employers are looking for attitude, not necessarily aptitude. Competencies – and feasibly even advanced skills for the job – can be acquired, but a candidate’s motivation, commitment and willingness to learn may be a clearer signal of cultural fit. Develop a growth mindset, so that your attitudinal strengths shine through.

Ongoing training and development are required in almost any career today. Employers will be impressed to see evidence of your willingness to keep learning. Enrol in occasional short courses to further your knowledge and skills.

Companies measure almost everything. Employees, ultimately, represent human capital, and capital needs to leverage a return-on-investment (ROI).  Sharpen your goal-orientation, so that you can demonstrate ambition, personal improvement and career progression.


Written By:

Gavin Olivier

Senior Partner and Managing Executive

Wits DigitalCampus