This blog was originally published to the Working Transitions/Career Partners International – Northampton. The original post can be viewed here.

Transferring it Like Beckham: Why the UK Economy Could Be on the Cusp of Something Big

Much has been written about transferable skills in recent years.  This coverage has tended to focus on high profile individuals who have left one industry to do something seemingly completely different.  One current example all over the media has been Frank Leboeuf.  Since retiring as a footballer he has taken up acting (recently popping up in the film The Theory of Everything) following in the footsteps of Eric Cantona and Vinny Jones.  Even David Beckham is having a go at acting, among other things.

Leboeuf comments about the transferable skills of footballers who go into acting  - “We know the cameras, we’re not afraid of showing off. We also have to be careful what we say in front of the camera; sometimes we don’t want to tell the truth because the journalist wants to make us admit something we don’t want to. You have to be an actor when you’re a footballer.”   While he has studied and perfected his craft diligently, the core skills that he possesses have been transferable between two very different careers.

Transferring it Like Beckham: Why the UK Economy Could Be on the Cusp of Something BigPeople usually think about their transferable skills when applying for a job or when considering a career change.  However, while many people can see and understand industry-specific experience (i.e. an accountant within a fast-moving consumer goods organizations moving to become an accountant in the professional services sector), it is harder to comprehend how skills transfer when it comes to a complete career change.

According to Gerwyn Davies, Labour Market Adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) “Skills shortages and utilization is still a major problem in many businesses. If we are to improve overall UK productivity, we must lift up the bonnet on British businesses and take a look at what they are doing to develop and use their people’s skills. Until this issue is tackled, performance and pay will continue to suffer.”

The UK economy is therefore sitting on the cusp of realizing a competitive advantage over those of other countries (especially in Europe). If, as a country, the UK can get better at identifying – and get used to the idea of – transferable skills more quickly, skills gaps can be addressed, career options enhanced, and business profitability improved.

To achieve this, candidates must get better at identifying and articulating their own transferable skills.  At the same time, employers need to gain a better understanding of the nature of portability as well as at seeing the opportunity and potential in each candidate.

For example, an accountant who wanted to become a marketer would arguably struggle with their transition.  Why should they?  The accountant brings commercial acumen, analytical rigidity, and an ability to be creative within set rules.  These are all skills a marketing manager needs.

It’s not about the skill set per se; it is about the abilities and qualities that can be recognized in individuals.

Psychometric TestingOrganizations often use some form of psychometric testing in the interview and/or selection process.  Such tests are designed to assess a candidate’s personality type, skills, talent, and ability, as well as to measure their potential beyond listed work experience.  However, even with this in place, people have become rigid in their thinking when it comes to transferability.  When competition is tough, the default position is to hire the candidate with the most relevant experience. Employers who fall into this trap don’t just have vacancies unfilled for long periods but often lose a candidate who could, with a little support in the early stages, be a star performer.

Penny Tamkin, Associate Director at the Institute for Employment Studies, highlights the pitfalls of classifying people in a way that restricts their future effectiveness. “Using competencies to drive key HR processes has some clear disadvantages.  Competency-based recruitment tends to strongly favour those who can show they have done the job before rather than giving a chance to someone who might make the most contribution.”

There have been several movements to combat these issues.  In late 2008 the BBC reported that UK government department, the Training and Development Agency was planning recruitment drives later that year in Canary Wharf to target those in the financial services sector for career changes into teaching.  These initiatives are too few and far between to be effective at creating measurable and meaningful change, however.

Similarly, during the recession, transferable skills analysis was essential.  Lynne Hardman, CEO of Working Transitions/Career Partners International – Northampton comments that “There is always a strong focus on identifying transferable skills when people are undergoing outplacement support.  For many this can be a revelation and often leads to new careers in sectors that they never would have imagined they could work in.  In fact, a high proportion of those made redundant find themselves in a different role in a new industry sector and are often much happier as a result.”

The key to unlocking this lies with the HR profession.  HR professionals need to develop new skills to tackle change as it is “even more complex than we might traditionally acknowledge,” a report from the Institute for Employment Studies has claimed.  Tamkin concludes that “There is a lot that is attractive here. As futures become more uncertain, preparing people for specific roles and tasks is too limiting. We need innovation, competitiveness, and productivity improvements, and in a more complex world, these would seem to cry out for holistic rather than atomized conceptions of abilities.”

If our economy is to succeed, we’ve got to promote, encourage, and support people in making the sideways moves into different careers that we have gotten used to seeing from the celebrity circuit.  We’ve got to transfer it like Beckham!

Lynne has enjoyed a successful business career of over 25 years, with experience in a range of sectors working with business start-ups, turnarounds, acquisitions, and corporate organisations. For the last 15 years, she has worked in the recruitment sector where she held board positions in two global organisations, leading teams to build high growth specialist businesses in new and established markets. Her varied experience has given her extensive insight into how careers are impacted by change. She is the CEO of Career Partners International – Northampton.

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