Transferring it Like Beckham: Why the UK Economy Could Be on the Cusp of Something Big

This blog was originally published to the Working Transitions/Career Partners International – Northampton. The original post can be viewed here.

Transferring it Like Beckham: Why the UK Economy Could Be on the Cusp of Something Big

Much has been written about transferable skills in recent years.  This coverage has tended to focus on high profile individuals who have left one industry to do something seemingly completely different.  One current example all over the media has been Frank Leboeuf.  Since retiring as a footballer he has taken up acting (recently popping up in the film The Theory of Everything) following in the footsteps of Eric Cantona and Vinny Jones.  Even David Beckham is having a go at acting, among other things.

Leboeuf comments about the transferable skills of footballers who go into acting  - “We know the cameras, we’re not afraid of showing off. We also have to be careful what we say in front of the camera; sometimes we don’t want to tell the truth because the journalist wants to make us admit something we don’t want to. You have to be an actor when you’re a footballer.”   While he has studied and perfected his craft diligently, the core skills that he possesses have been transferable between two very different careers.

Transferring it Like Beckham: Why the UK Economy Could Be on the Cusp of Something BigPeople usually think about their transferable skills when applying for a job or when considering a career change.  However, while many people can see and understand industry-specific experience (i.e. an accountant within a fast-moving consumer goods organizations moving to become an accountant in the professional services sector), it is harder to comprehend how skills transfer when it comes to a complete career change.

According to Gerwyn Davies, Labour Market Adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) “Skills shortages and utilization is still a major problem in many businesses. If we are to improve overall UK productivity, we must lift up the bonnet on British businesses and take a look at what they are doing to develop and use their people’s skills. Until this issue is tackled, performance and pay will continue to suffer.”

The UK economy is therefore sitting on the cusp of realizing a competitive advantage over those of other countries (especially in Europe). If, as a country, the UK can get better at identifying – and get used to the idea of – transferable skills more quickly, skills gaps can be addressed, career options enhanced, and business profitability improved.

To achieve this, candidates must get better at identifying and articulating their own transferable skills.  At the same time, employers need to gain a better understanding of the nature of portability as well as at seeing the opportunity and potential in each candidate.

For example, an accountant who wanted to become a marketer would arguably struggle with their transition.  Why should they?  The accountant brings commercial acumen, analytical rigidity, and an ability to be creative within set rules.  These are all skills a marketing manager needs.

It’s not about the skill set per se; it is about the abilities and qualities that can be recognized in individuals.

Psychometric TestingOrganizations often use some form of psychometric testing in the interview and/or selection process.  Such tests are designed to assess a candidate’s personality type, skills, talent, and ability, as well as to measure their potential beyond listed work experience.  However, even with this in place, people have become rigid in their thinking when it comes to transferability.  When competition is tough, the default position is to hire the candidate with the most relevant experience. Employers who fall into this trap don’t just have vacancies unfilled for long periods but often lose a candidate who could, with a little support in the early stages, be a star performer.

Penny Tamkin, Associate Director at the Institute for Employment Studies, highlights the pitfalls of classifying people in a way that restricts their future effectiveness. “Using competencies to drive key HR processes has some clear disadvantages.  Competency-based recruitment tends to strongly favour those who can show they have done the job before rather than giving a chance to someone who might make the most contribution.”

There have been several movements to combat these issues.  In late 2008 the BBC reported that UK government department, the Training and Development Agency was planning recruitment drives later that year in Canary Wharf to target those in the financial services sector for career changes into teaching.  These initiatives are too few and far between to be effective at creating measurable and meaningful change, however.

Similarly, during the recession, transferable skills analysis was essential.  Lynne Hardman, CEO of Working Transitions/Career Partners International - Northampton comments that “There is always a strong focus on identifying transferable skills when people are undergoing outplacement support.  For many this can be a revelation and often leads to new careers in sectors that they never would have imagined they could work in.  In fact, a high proportion of those made redundant find themselves in a different role in a new industry sector and are often much happier as a result.”

The key to unlocking this lies with the HR profession.  HR professionals need to develop new skills to tackle change as it is “even more complex than we might traditionally acknowledge,” a report from the Institute for Employment Studies has claimed.  Tamkin concludes that “There is a lot that is attractive here. As futures become more uncertain, preparing people for specific roles and tasks is too limiting. We need innovation, competitiveness, and productivity improvements, and in a more complex world, these would seem to cry out for holistic rather than atomized conceptions of abilities.”

If our economy is to succeed, we’ve got to promote, encourage, and support people in making the sideways moves into different careers that we have gotten used to seeing from the celebrity circuit.  We’ve got to transfer it like Beckham!

Lynne has enjoyed a successful business career of over 25 years, with experience in a range of sectors working with business start-ups, turnarounds, acquisitions, and corporate organisations. For the last 15 years, she has worked in the recruitment sector where she held board positions in two global organisations, leading teams to build high growth specialist businesses in new and established markets. Her varied experience has given her extensive insight into how careers are impacted by change. She is the CEO of Career Partners International - Northampton.

Career Partners International provides top quality talent management services to organizations of all sizes. Their offices around the world help assessengagedevelop, and transition talent in any industry. To find out more about Career Partners International and how you can maximize your organizational performance, reach out to an office near you or contact us today!

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  1. Maureen Hartnett's avatar
    Maureen Hartnett
    | Permalink
    Great article. I look back at my highly successful career and each of the four major roles I fulfilled, I had no direct experience in the particular industry or role - although I've always been involved in strategic growth planning, implementation and all that is required for a firm to grow smart, expand new markets, channels, etc. - however I have skills I never knew I had when beginning each role, such as being highly resourceful, ability to instinctively just "know" key decision makers in such widespread organizations as the Federal Government when I was hired to develop new real estate development opportunities within many governmental agencies such as GSA, ARMY CORP, NIH, CDC, and many others. I was lucky my CEOs trusted my instincts and in eight years my division grew from 30% of Corp revenues to 80%.

    Similarly, I'd never been a Director of Marketing at a commercial architectural firm. I landed the role right after the recession in the mid nineties. The firm laid off 90 architects due to being focused in too few markets.

    The CEO and a few key partners and I set big goals- such as develop new market channels in counter cyclical industries- higher education, health care and I recommended research labs- (they are repurposed or institutions develop new buildings every 4-6 years due to changing technology and to compete for top talent.

    We also decided the firm needed to be more high design vs average.

    In 8 years again, with next to no staff, our team- the CEO, 2 talented visionaries and me-grew the firm 400%, won over 15 major university buildings, grew the long established high-rise residential buildings nationally that the firm was known for (but this sector is hit hard in economic downturns), and began to make headway in research labs. Another woman expanded corporate buildings and lastly a well known designer led a new transportation division designing airports globally and in less than 8-10 years the firm is considered one of the leading architectural design firms in the US from their former position as a sleepy old line firm with a few nice buildings and only one market: high rise condos only in Chicago.

    Leading all strategy for sales, marketing, and creating collateral, the firm's first web site, PR-including a page 1 feature in the Wall Street Journal and too many jobs to mention - I excelled by learning from a few mentors, working well with internal leaders and clients and being great at tarketing new clients.

    I was never taught these skills. I used a few great consultants but through hard work, team effort, sticking with the vision it was exciting to be an integral part of a good firm's metamorphosis into a top global firm.

    In the job interviews for both these roles I was more concerned with the leaders of the firm having high intelligence, strong visions and open minds. I knew I'd fail if I was micromanaged. I wanted to succeed but only with a leadership group that was strong in the areas required for strategic growth.

    I turned down several roles because I instinctively felt I would not succeed with the firm: whether it was their product or service offerings, management or some intangible "feeling."

    These two roles were my favorite positions. Early in my career I worked in leadership roles within a Wall Street firm. After five years and four promotions I left due to the exact same issues we still face in investments: dishonesty, greed and although I personally did well, I couldn't work in an industry where a fairly large percent of my clients were dishonest.

    I left not knowing where I'd land. I believed by being smart about picking a firm where I could honestly say I could lead the division or the firm's marketing, or whatever the role, and exceed expectations given the firm's products or services, their relevancy, asking honestly if I believed the timing was right for growth in that firm/industry, and is the leadership team highly intelligent, flexible, visionary and passionate.

    Then and only then can you offer yourself to a role where you are inexperienced. Through researching the firm, products/services, interviewing former or current key employees, researching competitors and determining if there is a growing demand for the firm's offerings you can you convey you are the person to fill the role because your passion will be genuine.

    I've had firm's ask me "why do you want to leave your current role?"

    I needed to know why several of the former people in the position had left. I also wanted to know about the budget available for growth. Would I have at least a small staff (going in without a staff is preferred if you can.) And being very smart about what the firm does and what impact you can honestly make will most likely make the firm either want to hire you or will consider you very seriously even if you do not have direct experience. This has been my experience.

    Any company leadership that refuses to consider a talented executive with documented past successful experience in different types of roles but tangentially related is not a company I never want to work for .

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