Nowadays, if you want to have a marketable professional profile and attract offers from the best employers, developing transferable skills is just as important as acquiring relevant qualification.

What Are Transferable Skills?

Transferable skills are, as the name suggests, skills that you can transfer from one job to another or from one job field to another.

Communication skills are often given as an example for key transferable skills. Others are time management, problem solving, working as a team but also sales skills, database management, equipment management etc.

Employers try to find the candidates that are best equipped to do the job, they want you to have the right degrees but are also interested in what else you know, what other skills do you have that could benefit their company.

Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s first woman prime minister, Helen Sharman, Britain’s first astronaut, and Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany, had all studied chemistry. Many PhD students use skills they developed during their studies to find career opportunities in another sector.

Since we’re on chemistry, someone who has a degree in a chemistry-related field can transfer those skills to jobs such as science writer, patent agent or environmental consultant. They can also market skills such as analytical thinking, numerical ability or conducting research to gain employment in fields such as management and marketing.

In fact, only about one-third of chemistry graduates wear white coats and work in a laboratory.


Interdisciplinary Degree Programs

Several universities have started offering interdisciplinary degree programs to meet the demands of the changing labor market.

Psychology and design, biology and music, and computer science and art are among the most prevalent combinations, but there are all sorts of interesting variants, such as statistics and art, math and dramaturgy, and environmental and architecture studies.

While the idea of interdisciplinary degree programs may sound interesting, does this approach have any real-world benefits?

The current high-wage job requires students to study multiple fields, combining environmental science with law, information systems with healthcare or education with social media.

The more unique the educational profile of a student the more competitive and harder to replace he becomes as an employee.


Specialists vs Generalists

There’s a special allure to the title of expert, society gives more credibility to someone that has built vast knowledge on one narrow field. But when it comes to innovation, being a generalist is far more advantageous.

Although being a specialist has the benefit of giving you the opportunity to become a leader in your niche, you also run the risk of becoming absolute with advances in technology and you are faced with a high degree of career inflexibility.

A generalist, on the other hand, can find more employment possibilities and can take more lateral moves in his career, changing with the market.

Having knowledge on a broad range of subjects and gaining insight into the interconnectedness of study fields can help you come up with solutions that a specialist might be unable to see.

In a business, all the different departments are also connected, so hiring people that can see the bigger picture can benefit decision making and ultimately, the bottom line.

It’s no wonder generalists tend to be the corporate leaders and executives. This is due to these transferable skills previously mentioned. If you know how to manage staff, you’ll be able to do that in different industries.

The same skill set for a project manager applies whether they’re leading a team of accountants or IT professionals. The competitive edge comes from having knowledge in what the different departments they’re managing do exactly, what their challenges are and what changes could benefit the whole structure.

Professor Phillip Tetlock has been researching this topic for over 20 years and has reached the conclusion the generalists are better at predicting outcomes even in issues outside their areas of expertise. So, given that we live in such an unpredictable and fast-changing world, generalists might have the upper hand.

A study carried out in the UK in 2013 found employees believe that specialists are under threat. Despite the fact that they were given a job as a specialist, about half of the respondents said they held a generalist position in their company. In order to advance to senior positions, both employers and employees told researchers a more generalist skill set is often required. Companies also seem to be hiring fewer specialists.

This might be simply because they’re trying to do the same amount of work with a lower number of employees and therefore save on wages, not the noblest of motivations.

Furthermore, specialists ought to take note of how jobs are changing. There are currently a host of traditional jobs bearing the brunt of automation. Robots and programs can already conduct specialist jobs, such as a stockbroker, to some degree.

While these market changes will affect every one of us, specialists and generalists alike, specialists seem to be more at risk. This is due to a specialist’s limited skill set, which could mean a specialist will have to re-educate in order to find new work.

But that doesn’t mean the specialist’s reputation is declining. Many employers and employees still consider specialists to be a vital part of the workforce. It is therefore likely that the future labor market will need both.

It is worth noting that whether an employee is required to be a generalist or a specialist is heavily dependent on the organization for which they work. If an employee has non-specialist knowledge in IT but works in a company that doesn’t deal with IT operations heavily, in that environment they already possess all the expertise needed to perform their tasks effectively.

If your skills are advanced, you are probably more focused on a position in a larger company where your experience stands out from your peers and they are left to handle broader operations while you are asked to provide solutions to complex issues. You can also be contracted for specific jobs at smaller businesses, based on what you do.

Generalists can have a vital role in a small company since a wider skill set matches the flexibility needed and in a bigger company, they are valued in managerial positions because of their ability to connect departments.