In the age of specialists, how important are transferable skills?

While specialised skills can be learnt and taught, core or transferable skills are more inherent

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Transferable skills, also known as ‘core skills’ or ‘soft skills’, are developed by people over time. These skills not only add versatility to an individual’s overall profile, but can also add significant value to one’s career and life.

Some common examples of transferable skills include communication skills, leadership qualities, exceptional analytical skills and so on. Unlike technical skills that are always changing, these make one more agile.

These skills not only help in personality development, but are crucial when an individual is looking to fit into a role in a territory that he hasn’t explored before. These also stand one in good stead at the time of changing careers or moving from one industry or domain to another.

“Leadership can be taught via training, but there are some aspects of it are inherent or are deeply rooted in an individual’s personality”

Kamlesh Dangi, group head – HR, Incred Financial Services

For instance, candidates with no prior sales and marketing experience may find the role challenging, but, if they possess excellent communication skills, they may be able to leverage those skills to perform even better than the experienced personnel. Similarly, good communicators armed with exceptional problem-solving and collaboration skills and an effective speaking style can be promoted to lead roles in no time.

However, now that we’re moving into an era where perfectionists are much sought after, how much importance do these skills hold? Do these skills stand a chance against specialised skills?

Transferable skills vs professional skills

Which is more important? Simply put, transferable skills help one fit in, even when one is not the perfect match for the job or role.

Employees who excel in their current department are likely to excel in another department as well. If they possess excellent managerial skills, they will prove to be gems anywhere they go. Hence, it would be right to say that, as long as the role doesn’t require any specialised knowledge, transferable skills are more than enough to ensure success.

Also, one can actually develop these skills only till a certain age. For instance, a highly creative person may be unable to deal with the smallest of complexities, while an out-of-the-box approach has the potential to solve everything. While technical skills can be learned over time, these are not easy to develop. At senior levels, where people are expected to possess technical knowledge, soft skills are also a must.

Tech skills vs soft skills

A good set of transferable skills makes an employee or candidate versatile. In fact, certain skills are more valued by employers. Yet, many roles require technical skills as well. Hence, there’s no ‘fixed formula’.

“It all depends totally on the job,” says Kamlesh Dangi, group head – HR, Incred Financial Services. According to Dangi, it is not right to generalise. If the job requires technical skills, then the specialists would be preferred. At a managerial level, more weightage will be given to the soft skills. “Hence, there’s no universal formula,” asserts Dangi.

While these skills can be imbibed and developed at an entry level, at a senior level, these are a must-have and a pre-requirement!

After all, “ leaders can only lead their teams when they are able to manage them right. If they themselves can’t communicate their thoughts and vision to the team, they can’t expect the teams to achieve their collective/common goals.”

“75 per cent of transferable skills are developed from the experiences that people go through”

Ravi Mishra, senior vice president-HR, advanced materials groups, Aditya Birla Group

Candidate evaluation criteria

These skills are definitely a part of the evaluation criteria. “Morality, strong ethics, and the right attitude are the traits that make a candidate a right fit.” Candidates with good communication skills may clear an HR round, but if these same candidates lack the intelligence to come up with strong points in a group discussion round, they may not catch the attention of the interviewers. A combination of speaking skills, along with the right attitude and morals is what makes a candidate stand out from the crowd.

Entry-level vs mid-senior-level employees

For any entry-level job, transferable skills are beneficial. Technical skills can be learned on the job or improved while essaying the role, but no one can actually be taught to follow work ethics.

At mid-senior levels, these skills become even more significant. “Intent is always much more important than content,” says Ravi Mishra, senior vice president-HR, advanced materials groups, Aditya Birla Group.

Professionals do not remain in the same role for life. Roles and positions keep changing. Hence, employees with the right core skills are highly likely to perform even better in their next role. Unless it’s a new tech role or a role that requires specific technical knowledge, the candidate will be able to justify their selection for the role well.

Are transferable skills inborn?

Do transferable skills come naturally or are they nurtured? Mishra says, “It’s surely a debatable topic, but 75 per cent of these skills are developed from the experiences that people go through. It solely depends on the situational changes, ecosystems and environment”. The rest can be learned over time.

Just as some people are said to be born with confidence, some are born with these skills. However, there’s a certain age when these skills can be successfully developed.

“Leadership can be taught via training, but there are some aspects of it are inherent or are deeply rooted in an individual’s personality,” points out Kamlesh Dangi. For instance, one cannot lecture someone on how to be a good risk taker. Risk taking is not something that can be learned. It is a trait that comes from within. Instincts tell one whether to take a risk or not.

Role of training

Everyone is not born confident. Confidence can be built within a person. Similarly, many traits can be improved or even learned. Some people are definitely born with them, or have these traits as their strengths, while others can develop them over time and improve with practice. So, yes, trainings do help to an extent.

Clearly, both transferable skills and specialised skills are important and required. Both have their advantages and play a significant role in the professional and personal lives of people. While technical skills can be learned any time, transferable skills have to be picked up at the right age or time in life. Additionally, transferable skills are more significant at the senior level, where one is leading a group comprising diverse personalities.

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