Building Job Skills Through Adjacency

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Most career management sights will advise you to continue to “build your job skills.” It’s great advice, but with companies cutting back on training, how is an aspiring Cubicle Warrior supposed to build those elusive job skills?

On the job training, of course. Except on-the-job training only counts when you already are in the job you want. So on-the-job training is important. But to really get to your additional skills, I suggest you examine “adjacency.”

Adjacency literally means “the state of being adjacent; nearness.” In knowledge work, you build your skills by adding skills that are close to the ones you are already using. In a simple example, if you currently do programming in C++, an adjacent skill is to learn how to program Java.

It sounds simple, but how would you go about building adjacent skills?

First, you need to understand the skills you currently have in your work. Skills are certifications, degrees, and skills for the job. Skills like problem-solving, working within teams, and conflict resolution. These are specific skills, such as being able to problem-solve process issues as opposed, for example, to financial issues.

Each of these job skills needs identification as part of your inventory. After all, you don’t know what to add to your skill sets until you have an inventory of what you have.

Second, determine what skills you would like to add. Maybe, for example, that instead of problem-solving process issues, you really want to get into finance. There is now a gap between your current inventory of skills and the skills you are looking to acquire. And that gets us to adjacency.

Rather than go out and get a finance degree, you use adjacency to build skills in the finance area. The third step is to look at your work in your current position and determine what can be done to get closer to your job skill goal.

This can be done in a variety of methods. One way to build adjacent skills is to work on departmental projects. Being on a project necessarily requires interaction with people that have different skill sets. Good projects need financial proof for success – so a way to build adjacent skills is to help the person responsible for the financial aspects of the projects on their work. Tell them that you want to learn how they go about building the finances for the project. Consistently working on the financial aspects of your projects will build your skill.

Another method is to provide a backup to a position while that person is on vacation or out of the office. To be a backup, you will need to learn how that person does their work so that you can be effective in their absence. Often, even if you don’t currently have the skills needed for the backup, the department will want to cross-train you on these skills as it makes the department more effective as well.

Being open to learning your new targeted skills will bring you a surprising number of opportunities to learn bits and pieces of the new skill. Consistently working adjacent to your current job skills will bring you additional skill-set depth that is attractive to both current and future employers.

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