Courtney Connell of Weddington, NC is a college student and frequent contributor to education and human resources publications. In the article below, Courtney Connell explains how critical lifelong learning is when it comes to the workplace, and how skill stacking is becoming an alternate approach to traditional education.
The biggest career mistake that people make is devoting their entire vocational path to following only the tasks set before them. Courtney Connell of Weddington explains that specialization can limit opportunities and eventually lead to a career dead-end. The only way to keep growing is to keep learning – or what career coaches call “skill stacking.”
Simply put, Courtney Connell of NC explains that skill stacking is accumulating additional job-related knowledge and abilities that, once combined, provide a unique value to the company.
The tale of two graduates
For illustration, Courtney Connell of NC says to look at two fresh computer programming graduates. Both Steve and Jack are adept at code and find jobs in the software industry.
Steve focuses on being a “programming expert.” He learns different languages and gets certifications.
Jack builds a more diverse set of skills. He volunteers to lead projects and takes a course in project management. While working with other departments, or even the company’s clients, he learns about sales and marketing, and the challenges of finance, customer service, and customer experience.
What happens next for the careers of Steve and Jack?
Courtney Connell of NC says skill stacking improves chances of promotion
Courtney Connell of NC says that while Steve learns how to become a better programmer, Jack learns how to use technology to solve business challenges. His exposure to different sides of the business enables him to take a leadership role, starting from a project manager, and eventually as a CIO.
Steve, on the other hand, may become overqualified for some programming roles, but still lacks the specific skills that companies look for in a manager according to Courtney Connell of Weddington.
Skill stacking increases career opportunities
With that skill set, Jack isn’t even limited to working for a software company. Courtney Connell of NC says he can pivot to the marketing, management, or technology side of the business. Skill stacking has increased his value to a wider range of companies, even those that don’t specifically develop computer programs.
Skill stacking prevents redundancy
The COVID-19 pandemic was an eye-opener. Even large, well-established companies had to shut down or drastically cut their workforce. However, people who had diverse work skills were more likely to be retained or had an easier time finding a new job or pivoting to a new field.
In contrast, specialists like Steve had to “wait it out”. While they were experienced, Courtney Connell of Weddington explains their particular skill set was not in high demand.
Unfortunately, this kind of industry shakedown doesn’t just happen during a pandemic. New technology, such as artificial intelligence and machine automation, can render some jobs obsolete. Analysts predict that by 2030, about 800 million jobs will be replaced by automation.
Skill stacking promotes innovation
Courtney Connell of NC explains that centuries before skill stacking became a buzzword, renowned artist Leonardo da Vinci already espoused the Renaissance Man, or a person who is proficient in several fields.
Leonardo da Vinci was an artist, scientist, philosopher, and inventor. Today, his name has become synonymous with innovation: because of his endless curiosity and interest in different fields, he was able to come up with ideas that later proved to be astonishingly accurate. He was a visionary, a man ahead of his time.
Renaissance thinking is particularly important for succeeding in today’s world. Today, as companies adjust to the new digital age, innovation and problem-solving are more valuable than specific technical skills. The inability to “think out of the box” can actually hamper one’s career.
Skill stacking develops soft skills
Career experts say that soft skills are now more important to companies than specific technical skills. This includes communication, teamwork, time management, and leadership.
Courtney Connell of NC says people who are constantly venturing out of their comfort zone as they learn different aspects of the business, will naturally hone their soft skills. As they work with more people and take on bigger roles, they expand both their perspective and their network.
While it’s harder to measure soft skills and prove it on a resume, these skills do become readily apparent to employers as they observe that person at work.
For example, if Steve and Jack are confronted with a similar situation – a client who wants drastic revisions on a software – Steve may react with irritation, while Jack may be better at analyzing the client’s needs, managing the conflict, and coming up with a solution that works for everyone.
Ultimately, Courtney Connell of Weddington says it’s those soft skills that will make an employee more valuable to the company and held build a solid reputation within the industry.
Skill stacking opens doors for entrepreneurship
Courtney Connell reports that many people dream of starting their own business and being their own boss, and there is no better preparation for that than skill stacking.
Entrepreneurs have to understand different aspects of the business, and will likely perform multiple roles as their business gets off the ground: business forecasting, sales and marketing, accounting, etc.
They will also have to have a deep understanding of the industry they are in—not just book knowledge but an intuition built from years of exposure to it. Luckily, for people like Jack, they were already immersed in this kind of environment from the moment they started their career. Their skill stacking had given them knowledge that their competitors do not have.
Learning at the workplace
Experience is the best teacher, but only if the student is willing to ask questions, embrace experiences, and have a growth mindset. People must actively build their skills and be committed to learning at the workplace.