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What skills do I need to be competitive in today’s workplace?

Student Career Placement Consultant

I recently came across an article that had an intriguing title: “Half of the high-paying jobs in America now require this skill.” On reading it, I was a bit dismayed to learn that the author was talking about computer coding skills! What the article reported, based on research conducted by two reputable organizations, is that “roughly half” of the jobs in the U.S. that pay at least $57,000 per year now require knowledge of (or at least familiarity with) computer coding. The logic behind this result is that computing is used in just about every industry, and that an understanding of coding gives individuals an awareness of what their computing systems can do and how to use them more efficiently. It can also make collaboration with other employees, such as engineers or IT personnel, go more smoothly.

The article goes on to say that they’re not talking about the need for a degree in computer science, or even the need to have one or more computer science classes under your belt. There are a lot of online workshops, some of which are free, that can teach you the basics of programming languages such as SQL, Python, and JavaScript. The ones recommended in the article are CodeAcademy (an education company that offers free lessons in coding), Girl Develop It (a nonprofit organization with chapters throughout the U.S. specifically geared toward helping women gain computing skills), and Udacity (another education company that offers some free courses).

The findings of this study support the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) survey, which revealed that nearly 60% of employers expect college students to have technical skills and more than 55% of them want computer skills, although that survey doesn’t specify “coding” as a requirement. However, it did make me wonder what else the NACE respondents might have meant by “technical” and “computer” skills. Here are my suggestions about some other skills that you should make sure you have when you’re applying for jobs: 

  • Typing: By this I mean the ability to type on an actual keyboard, not just keying in on your phone with your thumbs! The ability to “touch type” is going to be useful in just about every professional job imaginable. There are dozens of free, online typing classes that can teach you the basics or improve your speed and accuracy.
  • Talking on the telephone: Many young people, and some older ones, just aren’t comfortable talking on the phone. We all know that phones are a dated technology, but they still have their place in the business world. The ability to speak confidently, take turns, and end a phone conversation politely will be greatly appreciated by employers—even if they never ask you about it!
  • Data management: Excel, Google Sheets, and other data management systems are essential tools in today’s business world. Knowing any one of them provides you with skills that transfer fairly easily to the others and make you a more valuable member of a team.
  • Presentation: Whether orally or in writing, the ability to present your ideas clearly is crucial. At work, you will have—or will gather—information that others need if the organization is to succeed. You must be able to share that information clearly. Familiarity with various types of presentation software is an added bonus, but nothing can take the place of clear, coherent writing. 

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