Modern Workers Must Have Right Skills And Attitude

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Work EthicsHeadhunters and CEOs have a message for today’s workforce: You need to be a tech-savvy problem solver, be flexible about taking on new tasks and seek out training that will keep you fresh in your field.

Same advice that’s been preached since the ’90s, right? Not quite. In today’s economy, it takes a different tone: If you haven’t used the latest software and express discomfort with new workplace tools and communication methods, there’s someone else in the towering mound of applicants who will fit that need.

In this employers’ market, firms are taking twice as long to fill jobs, waiting for the perfect employee who doesn’t need costly training. And when there are fewer positions to fill, employers prefer candidates with wide-ranging skill sets who are willing to take on multiple tasks and learn new ones, too.

Gone are the days where being proficient in one position held weight. Gone, too, is the time when employers took a risk on an enthusiastic attitude, willing to spend the money to train new hires.

Now, companies expect workers to invest in themselves.

That can be a handicap for weary employees fielding 12-hour work days and stretched would-be workers fighting a daunting unemployment scenario. Nonetheless, companies are demanding up-to-date skills in both new hires and internal candidates looking to move up.

“It’s amazing how clients are being so particular now,” said Jon Leeds, Miami practice director at Spherion Staffing Services. Companies, he said, are “dragging their feet” to fill positions, asking for an employee that has that extra technical skill or stands out in some way.

Recruiters say companies give preference to candidates who have learned the latest version of software used in their field and those who show interest in taking on new skill sets. Sometimes that means helping out in other departments and learning their equipment, sometimes that means learning how to use social media to network more effectively.

Formal education and bilingual abilities help, too.

At Coral Gables, Fla.-based utility construction firm MasTec, with 90 percent of its workers in construction jobs, knowing social media isn’t as important, of course. But the company wants to see more applicants who have completed trade school or who have experience operating various heavy machinery. Still, computer savvy is essential: Workers are given new mobile devices, like tablet computers and GPS systems, and need to quickly learn how to use them in the field.

“A lot of our work and measurement gets automated,” said Ben Gilbert, MasTec vice president of business development. “You have to be comfortable around all these technical gadgets. You know how to drive a bulldozer, but you need to also program the GPS.”

These days, Gilbert said, his company is easily finding savvy talent. “With the way the economy is, we’re getting a lot of good people. We’re having to spend less on training.”

Technology is equally important at AT&T. All of the 1,500 jobs currently available in the Miami area ? from behind-the-scenes engineer to U-Verse television service installer ? require understanding of today’s software and devices.

“The reality is regardless of the job, it’s about having a heightened familiarity with technology,” said Jennifer Terry, director of staffing at AT&T. “It’s about problem-solving with technology. It’s not about being the best programmer in the world. Use your past accomplishments to show how you problem solve and adapt.”

Don’t try to weasel out of filling out an online application form, recruiters warn. While the “who you know” game still is true for recommendations, prospective employees shouldn’t simply send the resume to the person you know in the building. Human resource departments track applications digitally, and Terry said avoiding the digital forms can hurt your chances.

At Baptist Health South Florida, often applicants don’t write enough detail in the online forms. Perhaps it’s an influence of social media and texting culture, where thoughts are dispensed in few words, said Adriene McCoy, assistant vice president of human resources at Baptist.

Whatever the reason, employers still expect workers to write well, communicate effectively in face-to-face conversations and speak in public.

“They have to be able to get the message out, and they have to be able to influence people,” said Tom Shea, chief executive for the Florida and Caribbean region of talent search firm Right Management.

The value of time-honored business skills is a concept foreign to some younger workers, said Jorge Plasencia, CEO of Miami-based Republica, a marketing and public relations firm.

“As we hire these young people, what I love about them is the energy they bring, the passion they bring and the fact that they are so connected to everything new and there is no learning curve,” Plasencia said. “They are kind of fearless in regard to technology.” But, he said, they “may skip some of the steps” with the more traditional ways of communicating in business.

It can be shown in the most basic way, Plasencia said, such as sending an interview follow-up letter that has no grammatical errors and coherent sentences.

Interview skills are especially critical for those who haven’t hunted for a job in decades.

“You really have to know your talking points,” said professional coach and organizational psychologist Michael “Dr. Woody” Woodward. Whether you’re in an interview, at a networking function or quickly posting online in a Twitter chat, Woodward said you need to be ready with talking points on who you are and what you have to offer.

Highlight what makes you unique, he advises. “If you’re a jack of all trades, you’re not going to stand out,” Woodward said.

Whether you’re looking for a job or looking to move ahead in your current company, be prepared to dish out personal time and money to stay at the head of the pack.

“Today the individual employee has to keep investing in their own employment,” such as paying for that new training convention or for language lessons, Shea said.

But the most critical skills don’t come with a certificate. You can’t major in team problem-solving or creativity.

“You have to have people who are totally flexible, people who are quick learners,” Shea said. “Companies have to continually re-invent themselves … and employees have to morph on along with that and bring new ideas to the game.”

Some savvy workers are using networks like LinkedIn to find people that can help make things happen. Others gather data on Google to come up with their own solutions. The bottom line: Companies want practical results that appear quickly ? even if you have to spend your personal hours to make it happen.

In a world where jobs are scarce, phrases like “That’s not my job” or a focus on leaving every day at the strike of 5 often doesn’t cut it.

“Everyone wants the best,” said Palm Beach-based Randy McDermott, metro market manager for Robert Half staffing services. “People are having to multitask, juggle, show they are dedicated in their career. (Employers) want more productivity out of less people. They want people in it until the job gets done.”

At the law firm Greenberg Traurig, President Matthew B. Gorson looks for the “3D lawyer” ? his buzzword for employees that have the added dimension of keeping up with trends and adapting to new workplace methods, such as video conferencing rather than booking costly flights for meetings.

More productivity doesn’t only apply to the career freshman. The constantly connected expectations of the smartphone era and the ease of sharing large files means managers and executives need fast fingers. For all but the top executives, a personal assistant is a rare luxury.

“I need to be connected all the time to my clients or to the people I work with,” Gorson said. And yes, that can mean 24/7.

The ability to work in teams is key. The old military-style of corporate hierarchy has been replaced by less rigid structures where employee input is actively encouraged. As a result, the workplaces themselves have become more flexible. Literally.

At Greenberg Traurig, entire walls are on tracks so they can be moved with office space needs. And a new, expanded kitchen encourages face-to-face interaction in the wired world.

Similar flexibility was incorporated in the new Hallandale, Fla., offices of marketing agency BGT Partners, who also opted for an oversized, home-like kitchen space and cafe.

The Hallandale Beach office incorporated sliding partitions between co-worker desk space, as well as an open ceiling for easy access to update data, Internet and phone lines. The office also has more space for collaborating: Most of the walls are entirely dry-erase marker board, and there are multiple areas to have a quick brainstorming huddle.

“We didn’t want people sitting in cubes anymore,” said BGT co-founder and Managing Partner David Clarke. “There’s a psychology of transparency. We don’t have secrets in here.”

That’s an important element to snagging creative, high-energy workers, who question what value a workplace can bring. That means the boss can’t hide in an office or on the top floor. Nor can the worker hide in a tall cubicle.

“Companies have to be much more transparent,” Shea said. “Employees are looking for a much more honest workplace. They want to say, ‘Hey, I want to help out. I can do that.’ “

Open, friendly workplaces can also encourage employees to stay with the company ? another way to cut down on training costs.

Florida Power & Light has an employee network group to promote engagement, and the company surveys its staff regularly to get honest feedback for indentifying concerns, said Shaun Francis, executive vice president of parent company NextEra Energy. Burger King is using a new hiring approach to identify leaders who want to grow with a company.

That transparency concept has completely transformed Burger King’s Miami headquarters, where no one ? not even CEO Bernardo Hees ? has a private office. On the sixth floor, Hees sits right in the middle of a row of nine office desks, surrounded by his top management team. The simple, sterile white desks are no more than a couple feet apart.

Hees said it cuts down on having people email him with questions, setting up conference calls or formal meetings. Instead, they just come over to his desk to ask. It’s all about speeding up the decision-making process.

“In this type of environment, information flows very easily,” he said.

On other floors, multiple employees share a long, plain tabletop, with no dividers separating computer workstations. Burger King’s Chief People Officer Jose Tomas said the restructure is meant to stimulate an environment of people who work quickly in an impromptu problem-solving style, which so happens to be the leadership qualities they are looking for in new employees.

“If you’re ambitious and driven, you’re generally the kind of person who wants to be seen,” Tomas said.

But that environment doesn’t work well for every personality. Organizational psychologist Woodward said he visits offices where such a design can clash with personalities needing more privacy to be productive.

Technology can also take the new workplace in a different direction: working remotely. Marlon Hill, partner at the law firm DelancyHill, transitioned his team of five employees in January to go completely mobile. Even the receptionist works from her home, taking calls and forwarding messages using the Miami-based cloud telecom service IPfone.

The cost of a full office wasn’t feasible, so now the firm rents out office space if there’s a need for a small, three-person meeting. That saves 65 percent on annualized monthly operational expenses.

“With business down 20 percent, we had to get leaner and meaner,” Hill said. “It’s not just a physical move, it’s also a mindset of how technology changes the discipline of your work habits.”

Whether you’re in a traditional office setting, a group shared space or working remotely, what companies value most, say recruiters, is openness to change. In today’s shifting economy, change may be the only constant.

Source: McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.