Working Strategies: Know skills you need and how to get them

So much of our national conversation about job placement focuses on training these days. We’ve spent an awful lot of time – and money – on the question of which degree or certificate is better, and much less attention on the fundamental question underpinning the training issue: Which skills should workers have?

In an ideal world, training would equal skills development; but the fact is, school-based training programs can only approximate the skills any particular employer needs in its workers. Sadly, the best-case scenario, workplace-based training, may be a thing of the past as employers eliminate expenses.

Working Strategies by Amy Lindgren

Working Strategies by Amy Lindgren

The ever-present question, “Which is the right training program?” really needs to be replaced by a better, more productive question: “Which employers am I targeting and which skills do they need?”

Let’s start over with some basic information and the questions you will need to bring to employers. First, remember my cardinal rule of job training: Employers hire workers to do something, not to be something. That is, they need you to perform tasks, not to simply be a certified whatever.

Second, understand that unless the work you will perform is licensed, the employer probably doesn’t care much about your degree or certificate. They only care if someone sitting above them – such as a licensing board – requires the worker to have a certain credential. Again, what the employer wants is for you to do something; what they hope is that the degree will ensure that you can.

Third, remember that employers who advertise positions will ask for more skills and degrees than they need, largely as a way of screening applicants.

With this knowledge, you have a decision to make: Do you want training primarily to get the next job, or to help you build your career long-term?

For the first instance, lean toward the short, intense certificate programs, as well as contract assignments and any hands-on experience you can get. Even volunteer gigs and do-it-yourself projects can bring a level of credibility, particularly if you garner work samples for the interview. This interim skill-building will be especially critical for people who are changing fields, or who have been out of the workplace awhile.

For long-term career building, go for the longer, degree-based training programs as they will better prepare you for the overall field and for issues you might encounter as your career progresses.

In both cases, and for the duration of your career, however, always start your job training quest in the same place: at the employer’s doorstep. By identifying the organizations you’d like to work for and then speaking with managers about the skills they need, you’ll be able to focus on the true goal, which is to be skilled and employable, not simply trained.

Amy Lindgren owns Prototype Career Service, a career consulting firm in St. Paul. She can be reached at
alindgren@prototype or at 626 Armstrong Ave., St. Paul, MN 55102.

3 comments Add your comment


February 20th, 2010
6:54 am

Excellent Opportunity to Study

Many people still think of online education as a way to take an extra class to supplement their brick – and – mortar education. However, online education, or distance learning, is becoming an increasingly popular way to complete an entire degree. More people are turning to distance learning to complete associates, bachelors and masters degrees……

Mayonnaise and boogers on Rye.

March 4th, 2010
12:49 pm

Oh yes…very helpful indeed.


March 31st, 2010
12:54 pm

I agree with the article. Just because an employee as a degree or certificate, they believe they are entitled to a job. You have to earn it and actually prove you can do the job.