What skills do employers really want from young people?

Q&A with Careers NZ

Welcome to the second Q&A in our parent series – answering your questions about your child’s work and learning choices. 

Hi Careers NZ

I’ve been in the same job for 21 years, but I read an article recently that young people will change careers several times in their lives and more than half of primary school children will work in a job that hasn’t even been invented yet! Things are moving so quickly that I worry my daughter won’t be able to learn everything she needs to know to keep up with all the change and stand out to an employer.

Keeping up with change

Hi Keeping up with change

You asked a very good question. It’s normal to worry about how your daughter can develop the skills to keep up with new technology and jobs of the future when we don’t even know what they are yet.

The difference these days is that young people aren’t expected to memorise facts and information, and there are no fixed ways of doing things. Instead young people are learning how to develop curiosity and the ability to explore, experiment, search for information and work together. With this sense of curiosity and problem-solving ability they are developing skills to keep up with change, adapt to different workplaces and find a range of work opportunities across industries. Encouraging your daughter to do these things will put her on the right track to develop the skills necessary for the workplace.

You might be surprised to learn that it’s not the "hard" skills like knowing how to code or use a piece of equipment that are most valued by employers, rather it’s employability skills – how people work, their characteristics and the personal qualities they bring with them. Employability skills are the hidden rules of work that determine how people behave in the workplace and how they contribute to a strong workplace culture.

Employability skills can be developed over a young person’s career, and when these skills work together they can really showcase their "wow factor" to an employer. Your daughter will have a good chance of becoming a valued employee with lots of opportunities if she tries to develop as many of the following skills as possible.

Employability skills are also ongoing skills that will remain at the top of an employer’s wishlist − even if job descriptions continue to change over the next 20 to 30 years.  

The seven employability skills

1. Positive attitude

Having a positive attitude means a young person shows up to their team game ready to give it their best, even if the chances of winning are low. You can be a great role model and demonstrate this behaviour by showing a positive attitude towards an issue you’re facing. Young people will definitely pick up on your positivity.    

2. Communication

Young people show good communication skills if they listen well, have a good attitude and are not afraid to ask when they don’t understand something. Strong communication skills are essential to all workplaces and this will only become more important in the future. One way to improve communication skills in a family situation is having a "no devices" dinner once a week – it’s a good way to have face-to-face conversation. 

3. Teamwork

If a young person volunteers as a fire warden, for example, they are demonstrating teamwork. This skill is essential in the workplace as most companies are made up of teams of people helping each other achieve a goal. If a young person does their part and works hard to get on with everyone, they will be well on the way to working effectively in a team.

4. Self-management

Self-management involves young people showing initiative. They turn up to school or work on time, in the right clothes or uniform, and people can rely on them. Learning to self-manage will help young people adapt to many different situations and workplaces, even when times are changing. Consider giving young people age-appropriate responsibilities with real consequences so they can learn this important skill. 

5. Willingness to learn

Willingness to learn is about young people showing they are happy to learn new concepts and things they need to know to do their job. When a young person comes to you with a tricky question, instead of saying “I don’t know”, try suggesting that you research the answer together online. Workplaces and jobs will continue to change so it’s important young people develop a willingness to learn – it’s going to be a strong feature of the future world of work. 

6. Thinking skills (problem solving and decision making)

Using thinking skills means that if a young person sees a problem, they don’t need to wait for someone else to fix it – they can fix it themselves. When a young person is making a decision, such as what to do when they leave school, this skill means they can think carefully about their choice and problem-solve independently. Family can foster a young person’s thinking skills at any age by asking them age-appropriate curly questions and "reasoning" potential answers together.

7. Resilience

Young people will experience challenges in their working life. Whatever it may be, resilience is accepting that work life does get hard at times and does change. It’s about being able to bounce back, ask for help and keep going. Talking to a young person when they are struggling with something and helping them understand how to cope with tough times will help them develop resilience.

Developing employability skills

To get your young person thinking about how to develop these skills, you could ask these questions:

  • what are your expectations of your future employers?
  • what skills and attributes do you think an employer would want to see from you?

Getting into the workforce where the rules are different and young people are expected to be proactive and add value to a business can be a challenge for them, but talking to them about expectations will help them understand what skills are valued on both sides.

Parent with a question? 

If you have your own questions you want to ask, you can web chat, call or email us. We’d love to hear from you.

The Careers New Zealand team