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Career over 50: How Technophobes Can Get Ahead

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With technology dominating just about everything today, there is a fear that if you’re not technically minded, then you’re a career is doomed. However, while the millennials entering the workforce now might have grown up with mobile phones and don’t remember a time before the internet, it doesn’t mean that the skills you gained outside of technology are no longer needed. They are, and in fact, they also need to be taught to the next generation.

In any job, soft skills are and always have been essential to getting anywhere. The dictionary defines soft skills as personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people, and while that might seem easy enough, for many people these can actually be very hard skills to grasp, especially in today’s modern society.

According to a survey by Adecco Staffing USA, 44 per cent of executives said a lack of soft skills was the most significant proficiency gap they saw in the US workforce. And in a report from the International Association of Administrative Professionals, OfficeTeam and HR.com, 67 per cent of HR managers said they’d hire a candidate with strong, soft skills even if his or her technical abilities were lacking, while just 9 per cent would hire someone with strong technical credentials but weak, soft skills.

It is true that if you can complement your soft skills with technical skills, then, of course, you increase your value by far. A recent survey by iCIMS found that 94 per cent believe “an employee with stronger soft skills has a better chance of being promoted to a leadership position than an employee with more years of experience but weaker soft skills.”

Hard skills can be taught quite easily

Hard skills can be taught quite easily, and once you have learned the basics, you can strengthen and maintain them by practising them and educating yourself. If you don’t know how to right click on a Mac, for example, you learn this reasonably quickly. Technological advancements continue to increase, and as they do, you are responsible for keeping up to date yourself. However, soft skills are a lot harder to teach, but they are unlikely to change due to technological advances, but they do still need to be refined and developed as people advance in their careers and find themselves in new situations. So much so that Joseph Fuller, Professor of Management Practice at Harvard Business School, said that “Forty-nine per cent of all terminations are attributed to deficient soft skills, which by a factor of 2x, is the number one reason workers are fired.”

While you might be great at your job, in fact, you could be the best at your job, but without soft skills, this doesn’t necessarily mean you are the right candidate to be promoted and to lead. For example, you could be the best sales person on the floor, you build rapport with your customers and close the deal every time. However, when it comes to managing people, you could be terrible. And while being a top salesperson requires many soft skills, being a leader requires a different set of soft skills. For example, the soft skills needed to get into management or to improve your management style require leadership skills and emotional intelligence. You will need to be able to motivate your team, having difficult conversations and foster an environment of inclusiveness and innovation. The more senior you get in your company, the more likely it is that you’ll have to give presentations, speak in public or interview job candidates, too.

Excel where robots can’t

Even if you’re not a leader and have no ambitions to go into management, soft skills are still imperative to have. As technology advances and automation is replacing humans in performing specific tasks in some cases, we as humans need to be able to excel in areas where the robots and algorithms can not. We need to be better at critical thinking, creativity and judgment.

Many soft skills do not get mentioned in job descriptions but are expected and hugely valued in the workplace. For example, being able to manage your time and being able to stay focussed can increase productivity. These skills can also be invaluable to your coworkers as they want to be able to count on you and work together to do what is required of the team.

Communication, both written and verbal, is another soft skill that is essential and has been affected massively by technology. The younger generation is used to communicating via text and email rather than face to face, and even though most have their phones glued to their hands, they are actually not very comfortable with using the telephone to make calls.

Stress management is another critical soft skill that is really worth developing, as you can’t reach your potential if you’re stressed. Being distracted, burned out and mentally fatigued in the workplace is detrimental; it will result in absence and less productivity during working hours. There are many strategies for finding a healthy balance in your workday so that stress doesn’t undermine your performance and make your life difficult for you.

To master soft skills, it is the same as learning any other skills you need to practice them and apply them to real situations. You can read as many books or take as many classes as you like on how to improve your soft skills, but the only thing that will help is actually putting them into practice and seeing the benefits they bring.

Also, make sure that you’re using your soft skills to show the younger generation what they are and how they should behave in the workplace.


Ceri Wheeldon

Ceri is Founder and Editor of Fabafterfifty.co.uk She is a frequent speaker at events and in the media on topics related to women over 50 , including style and living agelessly. With 20+ years experience as a headhunter Ceri also now helps support those looking to extend their working lives.

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