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Ever Wonder If Something Is Holding You Back?

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Ever have trouble with the instructions from Ikea, or getting a handle on a new email program?  Does working with a new team on a complex project get you down?  Do you reach for a calculator to figure out the tip on your restaurant lunch?

Sometimes, especially at work, wrapping your head around a new project or assignment can elicit a resounding “Huh?” or “I don’t get it.”

That’s usually because something, buried somewhere in all the little niggly details, is just evading your grasp.

That’s where essential skills come in; the comprehensive abilities that all of us need to grow, change and adapt, and  be able to transfer positions, get ahead, and be promoted.

Nine. That’s how many of these enabling know-hows the Government of Canada and other national and international agencies have identified and validated following extensive research.

“These are the skills that help us be better and faster at our work, and learn more,” explains Janet Lane, executive director of Literacy Alberta.

And their importance is reflected in the name: “That’s why we call them essential,” she notes.

“Without a good level of essential skills, learning is harder, so you don’t get as much out of your learning opportunities; you don’t learn as well, you don’t learn as fast.”

“If you pay good money for a course, you’re not going to get the full value out of that course,” Lane offered. “Then, when you go through training on the job, you’re going to get a lot of it, but you’re going to miss some of it.”

And when it comes time to climb another rung on the corporate ladder, skills needed to be successful in the more responsible position could very well need some sprucing up.

Those skills, she explained, include using the documents a supervisor would use, like reports, budgets and schedules, and the higher-level people skills needed, like conflict resolution.

Use of documents, writing, numeracy, oral communication, thinking skills, working with others, computer use, and continuous learning are the identified essential skills. They are defined as helping provide people with a foundation to learn other skills and enhance people’s ability to adapt to change.

“We all have these skills, but sometimes we don’t have enough of them.” Lane continues. “Or we realize that we may be good readers, but our numeracy skills could be better. A lot of us realize that we’ve lost some of our math skills since we went to high school.”

Some people can’t do math problems because there is a reading component to it.

“If you can’t really understand the problem, then you’re never going to get the answer right.”

Once upon a time, there was a popular belief society was to become paperless thanks to the evolution of technology and the realm of cyberspace, but that’s not necessarily the case.

Documents are becoming increasingly complex and there is no such thing as a menial job anymore, she pointed out. Every type of job has some computer use with it.

Our capacity to comprehend is compounded by learning and everyone has different ways of learning. That includes the old standby: trial and error. But Lane points out that method may not be the most productive way to learn.

Not only does it waste a lot of time, but also materials.

Anyone having a little introspection and participating in a little inner debate about whether they’re where they want to be career-wise, may be wondering if they’re missing an essential skill, and if so, which one.

And of course someone going into a technical course could also be just a little apprehensive about all those numbers and algorithms.


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One of those people who arrived in Fort McMurray for a short time – six months - but eight years later is still here. Love this place, the people, the outdoor escapades and the incredible heart of the community. Work hard, volunteer lots and would rather sit and chat with someone than do housework. Passport always at the ready to jet off to some wonderful global locale. So much to see and do.