Jack-Of-All-Trades Are in Demand & Skill Sets Must Pivot

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Jack-Of-All-Trades Are in Demand & Skill Sets Must Pivot

While Millennials and Generation Z are proficient in some skills required for career and life, they must broaden their scope in order to adapt to the ever-changing demands in the workplace.

To diversify and be the kind of worker currently in demand, they must pivot from having an I-shaped skill set to becoming T-shaped workers. I-shapers have expertise and knowledge related to a specific area such as engineering while T-shapers have those skills plus are able to think more broadly while collaborating more effectively with others with different expertise.  I think of it as Individual versus Team, and the latter requires the proverbial “soft skills.”

T-Shaped Workers

Ernest Wilson, former dean of the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communications and Journalism, published research in a 2015 Harvard Business Review article concluding that the five “soft skill” attributes forming the “T” were adaptability, cultural competence, 360-degree thinking, intellectual curiosity, and empathy. 

Jack-Of-All-Trades Are in Demand & Skill Sets Must Pivot

In a more recent Wall Street Journal article, Irving Wladawsky-Berger noted the shift in worker profile that the U.S. Navy wants on their modern ships.  He states that crew size has been reduced significantly and the need for “jacks-of-all-trades” has increased. They are not specialists in a field but at applying information across fields.  In articulating the growth in demand for T-shaped workers, Wladawsky-Berger draws this conclusion regarding limitations of I-shaped workers:

“Hard skills tend to be deep but narrow. Their half-life is getting shorter. The more specific and concrete the skills, the more they are prone to be automated or significantly transformed by advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, making it necessary for workers to be flexible enough to keep adapting to the continuing changes in the workplace."

National School Boards Attributes the Gap to Less Work Experience

Thomas Gentzel, Executive Director and CEO of The National School Boards Association, tells the Comcast National Newsmakers Team in an interview about Bridging the Workplace Skills Gap, “About 40 years ago, almost 6 out of every 10 teenagers had some kind of a job - a part-time job, a summer job. Today, it’s just a little over 1 out of 3.  So fewer and fewer students actually have the experience of working even part-time and then acquiring those soft skills as a result. So, this is something we have to focus on to make sure that they’re well prepared to be successful, to be life ready, as we say, when they graduate high school.”

In my keynotes, I often tell the story of my first job at age 13 earning minimum wage.  It was during my parents’ divorce and my mother wanted me out of our unstable home as much as possible.  She got me a job changing flat tires at the local bicycle store where I had to interact with co-workers, customers, and a boss who were all much older than me. I believe that this experience provided the needed skills to become an entrepreneur before I graduated high school and build a career fueled by my passions.

Our shortage of T-shaped workers among Millennials and Gen Z can partly be attributed to the lack of educational focus on soft skills and the lessening of real-life work experience.  As pointed out in the article above, the decline in high school students holding any kind of job is significant and is now contributing to this gap. Where real life experience has dropped, schools not increasing this focus is creating a chasm.

Currently, traditional high school education focuses on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) but doesn’t teach the “T” skills such as adaptability, cultural competence, 360-degree thinking, stimulating curiosity and empathy.

Fixing the Gap

So, how do we fix the gap and prepare youth to become T-shaped workers?

As mentioned in my earlier post, “How Cross-Cultural Competence Impacts Workplace Culture and Effectiveness,” groups once considered minorities will together make up at least 52% of the country’s population by 2050.  Our younger generations must be equipped to interact with people of all ethnic backgrounds and cultures in order to thrive in the workplace. To do this, education must teach active listening capabilities, people interaction skills, flexibility, and emotional intelligence.

Students must also develop 360-degree thinking. Data triangulation is a great method of developing this kind of thinking--consulting three or more resources to best grasp a full view of a topic by evaluating different perspectives. This increases the validity of findings and leads to a broader understanding of issues. With our current polarizing viewpoints, developing this soft skill is imperative for the workplace.

This must then fold into civil discourse which is also a learnable skill. As I have noted in the past, here are three ways we can teach students to engage in productive dialogue and express empathy versus hostility.  The capacity for empathy and the ability to express it is a social skill severely lacking in what Chris Lundberg, assistant professor of rhetoric at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, refers to as a “society of incivility.”  If we want our youth to succeed and become the T-shaped workers our workforce requires, we must increase experiential learning to overcome the lack of real-world experience and further focus on soft skills development. That is what is needed to help them to thrive, pivot,  and always be in-demand. 

So let’s engage in some civil discourse.  Please feel free to share your thoughts below and together we will find solutions.

Ravi can help you and your organization pivot and reach the next level

Ravi Unites Schools Update

We have had an overwhelming number of new members join the Ravi Unites Schools network this past quarter.  It has come to the point where the model needs to pivot in order to best serve all members and enable more students worldwide to interact.  So, we are now looking into corporate sponsorships to help us elevate the platform to become self sufficient with a support team that can manage it.  If you or your organization would like to learn more about becoming a strategic partner of Ravi Unites Schools, please send an email to connect@raviunitesschools.com.  Meanwhile, we will still be setting up interactions in the capacity in which we are able.

Other News and Announcements

Ravi recently gave a keynote to the Virginia ASCD association at their annual conference.  It was very well received, with a large number of school districts inquiring about convocations.  Since Ravi is a Virginia resident and he has both a vested interest and smaller travel costs in-state, he is offering steep discounts to Virginia schools.  Of course, he will also do what he can for those outside of the state as well because education matters and we must put students first.  If you are interested in having Ravi deliver your 2020 school convocation keynote, please send us a message through our contact page, https://raviunties.com/contact.


To learn where Ravi will be speaking next or to view current special offers, please visit the lower portion of the website home page here.

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