When again will you be able to develop your abilities and expand your horizons?
By Neville Beard
If you are about to finish with school or university you probably do not yet feel confident about taking on the challenges of the working world. There seem to be so many other requirements besides an academic qualification that employers want. How often do you hear or read about the ‘skills shortage’ and how difficult it is for companies to find the ‘right’ staff? Academic qualifications by themselves do not seem to be enough to solve either of these concerns. It is the Catch 22 of work – how do you get the experience and skills demanded by employers without first being given the chance to develop the required skills whilst working? And just what skills are employers today looking for?

To answer the second question first, do this thought experiment: think of all the characteristics that your ideal friend or parent would possess – traits such as integrity, determination, positive attitude, competence, caring, leadership, etc. Now if you possessed many of those qualities, and were actively working on improving the areas in which you are weak, wouldn’t you be more attractive to a prospective employer? Organisations today are more focused on who you are than what you have studied. If you can show evidence to them that you possess many of the characteristics they are looking for, will that not improve your chances of getting the job or deal that you want?
So how do you acquire or improve these characteristics in yourself? One of the best ways is to take some time out, a gap, whether it be a year or two, or even just a month, after school or university/college, to have experiences that develop you as a person. The more structured the experiences (for example short courses and qualifications) the better. Also look to take on responsibilities, as they will provide tangible evidence of competence, especially if they are relevant to your desired field of work. There are numerous organisations for you to choose from where you can volunteer your time and services. You probably won’t get paid (in fact many of the better options require you to pay), but you will be given opportunities to show people what you can do. The more you do the better you’ll get, and the more references and details you can then add to your CV.
People skills are in demand – if you can get along with people, and even help them like you, don’t you think you’ll get better results than if you impose your opinions on others? What is it in some people that cause the rest of us to want to be around them? It’s more than just looks – there are many beautiful people who are not fun to be around, or are incompetent (Miss World contests are a case in point!). Become the flower that the bees want to visit, rather than be the bee who is always using up time and resources going from one flower to another.
Grab hold of the time of your life – literally! You’ll probably never again have the freedom and energy to take time out from your studies and work as you do now – investigate the travel options and learning opportunities available to you as a gap year ‘student’. There are so many global organisations to choose from that you owe it to yourself to invest time finding out what is available and getting your itinerary planned. Look to experience new places and meet new people. Take short courses and find ways to develop your talents and abilities (always concentrate on improving what you are good at, not on what you are not good at). Discover what it is within you that turns you on, that enables you to meet life head-on, and keeps you motivated to deal with the inevitable obstacles that will get in your way.