Employability, it’s the new corporate buzzword that has job seekers scratching their heads trying to find ways to make themselves more attractive to potential employers.
The concept of soft skills is most often bandied about as the new career saver; without them your employability drops faster than the time it takes to Google ‘soft skills’ and add them to your CV, or so the experts warn.
I believe employability, particularly in the financial sector, is first and foremost founded in hard competency. Yes, soft skills like being a team player, being able to work with people from diverse backgrounds, being friendly and demonstrating general workplace optimism all have their place on the new-generation employee checklist. But when an employer needs an actuary or a qualified accountant, it is a candidate’s core competency that matters most.
South Africa’s unemployment rate is currently hovering around the 25% mark. We constantly hear stories of young people struggling to find work, yet, paradoxically, there is a growing skills shortage. We need more specific types of skills that are not currently being supplied. In other markets, employability might be more about all the qualities the well-rounded employee brings to the table; in South Africa, employability primarily comes down to matching supply with demand.
National Scarce Skills List
In May this year, the government released its National Scarce Skills List. Top 100 Occupations in Demand, detailing the current skills most needed in South Africa. Financial managers were listed within the top 10 occupations. Our own research into recruitment advertising in the private sector mirrors this: year on year we have seen a 20% increase in the advertising of financial positions. The top-three financial roles consistently in demand are financial manager, management accountant and financial accountant.
Firstly, this tells us that an important step towards producing more employable school leavers in the country is an urgent focus on improving maths in schools. Next, it points to the imperative to promote the right types of study directions to matriculants, particularly those with a financial focus. As appealing as, say, 17th century Nordic language construction sounds to some, such a study path will most likely render these graduates unemployable.
Ultimately, if what you’ve studied is not relevant to the market demand then no amount of advice on power dressing, CV design and positive body language is going to make you more employable.
That said, if you have pursued a financial career and have the core competency to show for it, there are certain qualities that will make you stand out from your peers, enhancing your employability.
Hone your talents
First, hone your talents at speaking well in public and writing in professional, business English. It’s a dying art in the age of texting and instant messaging, but your influence will quickly grow when colleagues start relying on you to compose necessary communications and make important speeches.
Next, be prepared to pay your dues. There is a growing sense of entitlement among employees who increasingly have high expectations of their employers. But all employers want are people who can be trusted with the job at hand (which goes back to your core skills!) and be patient enough, within reason, to know that good work will be rewarded.
Finally, invest in becoming a good leader. South African business needs great leaders and managers. Being a good accountant doesn’t mean you’re a good manager, but being in the financial profession provides you with access to the platform necessary to become one. If you have the inclination, apply yourself to developing strong people and leadership skills.