Work in Japan Advice Board
Whenever seismic shifts occur in the economy, colleges, corporations, and governments set about trying to understand the changes, and come up with a blueprint for the basic skills needed to survive and thrive in the new economic landscape.
The skills inventories deemed appropriate in the industrial revolution were suited to working with machinery, productivity, and repetitive tasks. In the IT revolution, computers automated many things, and job skills shifted more to working with information and communication. But as the rate of change has accelerated over time, it is increasingly difficult to specify what skills will be needed for a job, much less a career.
The shift has been toward transferable skills that are more scalable and adaptable, rather than job specific. Because many job skills must now be learned as you go, in hiring companies tend to value attitudes and aptitudes, rather than talent for tasks.
Hiring decisions are still made based on chemistry, personality, and connections, but there is also a new set of criteria that is being adopted and promoted on a wide scale. The blueprint for employability exists, and is being used far more pervasively than you might think.
The Partnership for 21st Century Skills (www.p21.org) was formed in 2002 through the joint efforts of the U.S. Department of Education, and founding member organizations including AOL Time Warner Foundation, Apple Computer, Cisco Systems, Microsoft, SAP, Dell Computer Corporation, and the National Educational Association. Its mission is to promote 21st Century readiness to succeed as effective citizens, workers, and leaders, and to build collaborative partnerships among education, business, community, and government leaders. At the core is what is called the 4Cs of Learning and Innovation Skills: Critical thinking, Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity.
The core of this blueprint has been adopted in Japan, with the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI) program to promote shakaijin kisoryoku, core skills for working adults. It is a hot topic in Japan, in the light of the problems surrounding employment and employability, as more and more people who want a job cannot find one, and people who have a job cannot keep it.
The blueprint identifies 3 aptitude areas, roughly defined as follows.
Action: the ability to move forward and stay engaged, to get up when you fall down. This includes taking initiative, motivating others, and achieving goals.
Thinking: the ability to question and think problems through. This includes identifying problems, planning, and creative thinking.
Teamwork: the ability to work with other people in pursuit of a common goal. This includes communication, listening, flexibility, awareness, being cooperative, and stress control.
Many of these are really more attitudes and aptitudes rather than job skills, but they are being used as the new standard for career counseling and job search. Hundreds of programs are being offered which propose to explain and teach these skills, and in Japanese fashion, complete with manuals for training.
The decade of the 1990s saw rapid development of computers in everything from communication to distribution. Technology caused seismic shifts in the foundation of lifetime employment and job security, so that for many now the safety net is no longer there. Employers in Japan are now placing a stronger emphasis on being proactive, taking initiative, and getting paid for performance. Employees are not only expected to carry their own weight while they are employed, they are increasingly being asked to accept far less job security.
Japan’s education system did and still does promote a top-heavy emphasis on memorizing facts to pass exams. While going to the right university used to be a sure ticket to secure employment, today many college graduates are finding it extremely difficult to find work, and companies are pressed more to look for performers with good attitudes and high energy, rather than intellectual achievements.
The blueprint for 21st century employability is both a response to and a sign of the times. Undoubtedly we need people who are innovative and proactive, as well as positive and cooperative, to succeed as workers and leaders. However, these abstract adjectives can also serve as a smokescreen to hide behind.
Years ago, I watched my uncle interview a college graduate for a sales position. The young man had obviously been coached by the college career counselor on what to say, and proceeded to list off his qualities: hard working, friendly, energetic, good with follow up, yada yada.
He did not get the job. “These are qualities,” my uncle said, “that you demonstrate, not talk about.”
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William Reed is a renowned author-speaker who coaches physical finesse and flexible focus for a creative career path. A certified Master Trainer in Guerrilla Marketing and 7th-dan in Aikido, he combines practical wisdom of East and West to help you learn personal branding at the Entrepreneurs Creative Edge.