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Where to acquire the skills for your job?

To be recruited, and then be productive in our jobs, we need to acquire relevant skills and then continually upgrade them.

Well documented professional skills, processes, and approaches can be taught in a classroom or lab setting. If there is a critical mass, education institutions will offer courses or multi-year programs to train for them.

On the other hand, there are skills which can only be learnt on the job. These tend to be less well documented or very specific to the way a company or a small group of companies work.

If you want to be in professions where the skills can be taught in a classroom – go to the right schools to acquire and also to keep upgrading them. On the other hand, for trades which are learnt on the job, work for companies which have the means & reputation for investing in training their employees.

Skills & processes which are well documented

a) Demand is across industries - In professions such as law, accounting, and IT for example, the processes and approaches are well documented and these skills are required across industries, which creates a critical mass in the demand for them. Being well documented allows for them to be taught in a classroom or lab setting. The critical mass makes it viable for independent educational institutions to offer to train and impart these skills.

b) Demand is within a large industry or sub industry- Inventory management, actuarial sciences, welding, logistics & route planning are examples. Here too here may be sufficient demand for trade schools (welding, machining) or select educational institutions (actuarial sciences, sports management) to offer them in curricula.

For both pan industry and intra industry skills, companies can hire those who have trained or upgraded themselves in educational institutions and get productive workers with minimal investment in training. These are like TV dinners – heat & eat.

Reciprocally, these resources are likely to be paid a premium wage for their ability to be rapidly productive. Employers are paying it for the faster productivity and savings in cost of training.

The opportunity to acquire job skills in education institutions creates a free market for skill building & enhancement. Those who take the initiative and have the means will enhance their chances of acquiring these skills, landing jobs, and the better compensation.

In these professions, the onus of learning and ongoing skill enhancement lies with you – the professional.

Skills which are niche or not well documented

a) Required across a group of companies – Skills required within an industry which are less well documented or in low demand are less likely to be taught in external educational institutions. The onus of creating these skills and capabilities then shifts to the employer(s).

The larger companies, because of their size, are likely to need more on these niche resources. Benefiting from their larger requirement, they can train at lower costs per resource because of economies of scale.

Since they are going to invest in training, they will want to balance that with lower cost of wages. Recruiting good potential (and low cost) individuals from school and college campus and investing in training them becomes an attractive option.

For skills which are not taught in educational institutions, companies with a critical mass of requirements of these skills will become the proxy educational institutions of the industry. If you want to work in one of these niche work streams, aim to work for companies which offer the best grooming/training in your chosen profession – and aim to join them straight out of campus.

As you grow in these careers, always keep in mind that the opportunities for training and ongoing skill development lie primarily with your employer. If your existing employer is leading in innovation and employee upgradation in your work stream, then you made it good. If not, then it’s time to make a move to an employer who is.

b) Required within only a company - Every company does something differently from its peers (The Toyota way, The IBM way), embedded in its business processes or intellectual property. The knowledge of these processes/IP is known only within the organization and only way to acquire them is to be employed with that company.

While some of the skills can be acquired through training (i.e. in its unique processes/IP), others are learnt with tenure with the company (the network relevant to your work, nuances of the company culture). In both situations the skill acquisition and productivity of individuals will grow with in-house training and/or tenure.

For these skills, each company has to train and upgrade its employees. It is the only source of this knowledge.

Again, if a company is going to have to invest in making you productive, it will want to balance that with lower cost of wages. Recruiting good potential (and low cost) individuals from campuses will again be a desired option.

If you have chosen to build proficiency in the processes & practices of a specific company then it is the only source for your skill development. Take every opportunity offered to participate in trainings/skill enhancement opportunities offered by your employer– self learning, seminars, classroom training – go all in.

In closing

If your chosen profession is one with well documented skills and processes, odds are that you will find an educational institution where you can get trained and also periodically upgrade your skills. These are typically skills which are portable across industries or across a large industry sector e.g. HR, accounting, IT, welding, inventory planning.

The onus of acquiring job skills and keeping them current lies primarily with you. Companies will pay a premium for your ability to be rapidly productive

On the other hand, for less well documented or niche skills, the onus of skill development shifts to the employer.

The larger companies have the scale & means to invest in training for these niche skills and they are the better employers to work for. To offset the investment in training, these employers will want to hire workers from campuses and train them in the niche skills. If your eyes are set on professions which are niche to a small industry cluster or a company, then aim to get recruited from campus or early in your career and become part of the industry cluster or company cadre.

Keep swinging!

You may also want to read Land a job and grow with it

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