Why skills acquisition matter

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Trainees at a Vocational training centre

By Adamu Tilde
While, in a way, we can still hold both the federal and state governments responsible for their failure to create jobs and enabling environment for people to thrive, I believe we can do more by asking questions on why a trained PhD holder cannot ‘create’ a job for himself if he fails to secure one. Perhaps, by asking such types of questions, we may discover what really matters: certificates or skills?

Today, certificates are no longer the ‘in-thing’. While I will always encourage people to acquire higher degrees and certificates, folks should be mindful that certificates alone — in an era where distance and space have been eliminated, in an era where artificial intelligence is breaking all barriers, in an era where outsourcing is an industry in itself, in an era where computing is getting cheap, more precise and accurate — is not enough.

Unless you want a career in the academic environment (which, by the way, is not easy to come by nowadays), I would suggest that you should acquire hands-on experience, relevant pieces of training and certifications than having additional degrees. [This position is open for debate!]

As an accountant, you are better off becoming a chartered accountant — having relevant certifications like CFE, CFA, ACCA than having a masters degree. As a mass communication graduate, employers would rather read your report-writing samples, feature articles you have written, interviews you have conducted than seeing an MA certificate.

As a computer scientist or engineer, trust me, if you have no basic skills like programming, your MSc or MEng has a little chance of landing you a decent job. It is all about what difference are you bringing to the organization. Organizations want to increase efficiency, minimize cost and maximize profit.

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Do you have what it takes to achieve that? That is the question you should ask yourself.

On the fact that this world is a world of skills, no degree of doubt can be any effective. It is all about the questions: What can you do? What are you bringing to the table? In what way do you think it can be done cheaply and better? How quick are you in spotting opportunities? How good are you in predicting the future? How perceptible are you in understanding trend(s)? How imaginative are you? How disruptive can you be? How critical about the status quo are you?

These are the questions employers want you to answer, not merely having a chain of certificates. By the way, for example, Google is no longer hiring on the basis of attending which college but on what skills you possess. While I still maintain that certificates are good (and if you have the opportunity of acquiring more why not?), but it should not be at the detriment of acquiring the needed and relevant skills.

Basically, there are three platforms one can acquire the needed and relevant skills, viz:

1. Internship (paying or non-paying)

One of the quickest ways of penetrating any organization is via internship. You will basically learn everything they are doing.

The advantages of internship are that once there is a vacancy, you will be the first person to know.

You will be knowledgeable about the probable questions. You will also have the opportunity of knowing the panel. And even if there is no vacancy, the network developed will throw around words for you to sister organizations.

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One secret you should know is that: for every five jobs secured, three are through referrals. So, never underestimate the power of network. We have a WhatsApp platform where, I think, virtually, fortnightly there will be a success story of one getting one job or the other.

The power of network cannot be overemphasized! The interesting part of the group is that there is basically no organisation without its representative in the group.

So, while growing up, especially at the beginning of your career, money should never be your only yardstick of accepting or rejecting a job offer or a chance to acquire skills.

Gather the needed experience, and you will be in the position to say no to job offers.

2. Volunteerism

Another method of acquiring skills employers need is through volunteering. Write to any organisation and state that you want to volunteer. While volunteering, you will know all that they are doing, and learn the skills needed. In the event there is a vacant position, you will be the first one to be contacted and, probably, if you are lucky, you will get the job without even an interview. So much for a volunteer, if you ask me.

3. Online courses

Today, there are hundreds of learning platforms where you can learn basically everything, most importantly, things that the industry needs. Coding. Analytics. Programming. Data science. Problem-solving. Critical thinking. Digital marketing, etc.

Virtually all the relevant skills can be learnt on Coursera, Udemy, edX, Udacity, HBx, Khan Academy, Lynda etc. And it is so cheap that once you have an Android phone, you are good to go. Most of them are free; but if you want certifications, which I believe you should have, you will pay a token amount like 50 dollars or so.

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In conclusion, let me reiterate that it’s very good to have a certificate; it’s always a plus for you. But, as I said, this world is a world of skills where a sort of survival of the fittest takes place — if you have skills, you have better chances of landing a job, and if you don’t have any, your certificate cannot help you.

A large chunk of the things they taught you in school is irrelevant the minute you step into the ‘real world’. That being said, concentrate on your studies while in school, but, I repeat, don’t graduate (or, at best, don’t meet employers) without acquiring any skill. Use your time and resources wisely. Plan. Plan. And plan. The future is still bright!

PS:
In addition to having all the certificates and relevant skills needed to thrive in the 21st century, an interesting habit that will keep you relevant, important and above your peers is the habit of Lifelong Learning. You have to keep reading and keep reinventing yourself.

President Obama, despite his schedules and position, was reading for two hours every day. Bill Gate is doing even more, as does Mark Zuckerberg. So keep reading — that is how ideas are fertilized, developed and refined.

Fact is: we have to do twice what our fathers did to get half of what they had. This should ring well in your brain!


Mr Adamu Tilde writes from Abuja.

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