Transportable Skills

It is said that people have an average of seven careers during their professional lives. This is an urban legend, and its persistence is due to the idea that the breathtaking number seven seems to capture something important about the Zeitgeist of our era. No one really knows how many careers a typical professional today will have. We do know, however, that nearly a quarter of the working population has been with their current employer for one year or less. Just 10 percent have been with their current employer 20 years or longer.

In the spring issue of ICView, we highlighted the “career makeovers” of some of our alumni, which reinforced the element of self-reinvention that has become a part of the professional landscape. The art of self-reinvention places a premium on transportable skills—capabilities that are not specific to a particular job but instead contribute to success in many work environments. Employers emphasize transportable skills when listing their top criteria for new hires. Some of these skills are critical thinking, effective communication, and the ability to solve complex problems while working in a collaborative team.

I feel it is the responsibility of a quality college to create an environment in which students can develop these transportable skills. This past May, I asked the following question of the IC Mentoring Network: “What experiences during your time at IC did you find were surprisingly useful throughout your career?” Answers to this question from alumni suggest that IC does an excellent job of preparing students for professional success by providing beneficial experiences, in and out of the classroom.

One alumna recounted learning words in her Spanish class that she never thought she would use—like “jackhammer.” During one of her internships, the alumna was on a movie set where they had to stop filming because of construction noise. The man running the jackhammer at the construction site only spoke Spanish, and the IC alumna was the only one who could communicate with him. “My boss never forgot that and later hired me to [help] negotiate a contract for a film location when the manager only spoke Spanish. He remembered my jackhammer save and [hired me] to do this job!”

Another alumnus wrote about rowing on Cayuga Lake every morning at 5 a.m. and sacrificing spring break for grueling training sessions. He said this preparation led to his team beating teams from Ivy League institutions, and it showed him that he was more capable than he thought.

Alumni also wrote about how participation in student organizations gave them skills in leadership, conflict resolution, public speaking, marketing, and strategic communications—all skills that serve them in their careers today. They also recounted work experiences that taught them how to be prepared and think on their feet.

One of the great lessons of life after graduation is seeing how people work together in an organization to accomplish a shared goal. Even in this area, students develop transportable skills while in college. One alumnus wrote that when he was hired as a resident assistant in Tallcott Hall, he realized the value of personal responsibility and loyalty to the person who hired him, and it showed him “the importance of following through on assignments and validating the faith other people have in you.”

The ability IC alumni have to reinvent themselves is testimony to their deft use of transportable skills. I like to think that their educational experience at IC created a strong foundation for development of those lifelong skills.