Coursera Careers MOOC – Thoughts from Week 2 on Skills

This is my second blog post (first blog here)reflecting on the Coursera MOOC put on by the University of London entitled “Enhance your Careers and Employability Skills.” This week moves on from values to the slightly more hands-on issue of skills and it’s increasingly well acquainted cousin employability. This week is delivered by four member of staff from the careers group, Victoria Wade, Helen Kempster, Ed McLean and David Winter, for simplicity’s sake I will just refer to them as “the authors”. Here are the main things I learnt from the week.

1) Defining Employability

I liked the definition the authors used for employability which they drew from the Confederation of British Industry as being the “attitudes and aptitudes for work.” I feel this focus on how you perform in a role (as opposed to career management skills of how you get a role) is an important distinction and I also liked splitting it between attitudes, how you think about and approach work, and attitudes, what you actually do in work. I feel this is a good solid definition which I may end up picking up for myself.

2) Skills versus Behaviors

This idea comes from the fact that an employer and a job searcher hold different information. The employer holds what they want from a candidate while the job seeker as a sense of what they think they can offer. The authors point out that there is a need to communicate your offer in the language used by the employer. The authors point out that any skill may be used to require a wide range of behaviors. For example communication may refer to a wide range of actual behaviors. They suggest that you overcome this by considering what behaviors are wanted by the employer. I found this distinction between behaviors and skills a really important one and an important piece of critical thinking for students to engage with.

3) Thinking Through Developing Skills

I was particularly pleased that the authors covered developing skills. I often think we can just think about people as having static skills and so we just ask “what are you good at” and not “what could you be good at?” I feel that thinking about development is a vital component of career education. I found the common sense simplicity of thinking through what contexts available to use to allow skills development helpful though I feel that thinking through what counts for quality skills development or what sort of development would hold particular weight with an employer could have added more value.

The authors were very helpful when thinking about skills development and goal setting. They refer to the work of Locke and Latham (1990) who produced five principles of good goal setting which are as follows:

  1. Clear and specific
  2. Challenging
  3. Have the commitment of the goal setter
  4. Allow for feedback
  5. Take into account complexity

I think this created a helpful framework to use with students. This section really got me thinking about how I help students think about skills development and not just skills identification or articulation.

This concludes my thoughts on the main section of this week but I also really enjoyed getting stuck in to the extra resources this week. Here is a quick summary of some of the main thoughts I got out of these extra ideas:

  • The was a helpful discussion around how we often overestimate how good our skills are. This idea comes from Dunning-Kruger effect which describes that we overestimate our skills because we do not know what really good looks like. Our lack of ability holds us back from knowing what good looks like. This makes an interesting case for more peer-to-peer learning and especially more mentoring in careers education so that students can be exposed to people who are better than they are.
  • Secondly I really appreciated the discussion from Carol Dweck and her work around mindset. Dweck contrasts between someone who has a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. A fixed mindset sees people as basically unchanging so they tend to want to control their environment so they can fit it and oppose challenge to their view of themselves and are adversed to failure. This is contrasted with a growth mindset where people see their skills in a lot more fluid way. Skills can and should be improved upon and challenge and failure can be seen as positive experiences where we get to change and refine our abilities.
  • The authors created a helpful distinction between skills and strengths. Skills is what we can do, strengths are what we are motivated to do, it is where our skills meet our values. Apparently increasingly employers are looking for strengths, to find what someone is motivated to do as this better predicts job performance.
  • Finally the authors produced a helpful distinction between transferable skills and translatable skills. Transferable skills are the conviction that if I can do something in one context I can move it across and do it in another context. On the other hand the notion of translatable skills puts a lot greater focus on context. Translation picks up the idea that things have different content in different contexts but that a skilled translator can move content between contexts. So this acknowledges that communication involves different behaviors in different contexts but that someone skilled at translation can change these behaviors for different contexts.

Again got lots to take away from this week, looking forward to getting stuck in to week 3.


2 thoughts on “Coursera Careers MOOC – Thoughts from Week 2 on Skills

  1. Thank you for interesting reflection and analysis. I am interested to take the course and have already added to my watchlist. If it’s possible, will you drop me a link to the first week of this course in archive, please?

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