The critical skills needed to get/do a middle-wage job

ball in hoop crop2I recently coached a young woman (let’s call her Norma) developing her resume.  Norma is working as a Nanny/Assistant for a family.  She thought of her job as a series of tasks.  I suggested that she describe it in terms of the level of responsibility that she had, which was considerable.  We also started to describe the work outcomes that showed positive traits that would be assets in any job:  Initiative, an ability to learn, etc.   Norma then shared this: “I was surprised to find that the hardest part of the job was working with the mother.  She had a rough way of giving me things to do.  I thought of changing jobs, but then I thought ‘What is this trying to teach me?  What can I learn from this? So I stayed and learned how to communicate better with her'”  I was floored by her natural instinct to use adversity for growth. I quickly assured her that any employer would be delighted to have someone with her attitude toward challenges since, too often, people who encounter issues either back off, blame someone else, or quit!    To move up in economic security, Norma and all those like her need to recognize their considerable personal strengths relative to employer needs, increase key skills and master the job search and land process. That can seem like to0 big and broad a challenge so let’s get specific.

This post is for anyone trying to move from a low-wage to a mid-wage job, and for people able to help others make that step up.  So, pretty much for everyone. 🙂

The first section is a great list of skills that low-wage earners need in order to get and perform middle-wage jobs.  The second part is a tool that I developed with colleagues and evolved over  years in management to train managers on how to evaluate employees, and to tell employees what they need to demonstrate to get good evaluations.

Skills Needed

The “Economic Prosperity Strategy” report that I wrote about earlier this week had some really useful insights about what skills people need to be able to get and perform middle-wage jobs.

(The details on this are worth reading on pages 18-20 of that report; here is a summary.)

They note that people in low-wage jobs rarely have the chance to develop the needed level of these skills that are needed in mid-wage jobs :

    • Basic skills
    • English language
    • Soft skills (e.g. service, communication) and Job readiness ( e.g. attitude, promptness)
    • Technology and digital literacy
    • “Higher order skills”

This last category is interesting and they elaborate on it.  While the first four areas are fairly easy to describe and teach someone, the “Higher order skills” are harder to train people on and include:

    • Instructing,
    • Learning strategies
    • Management of people
    • Negotiation
    • Persuasion
    • Systems analysis

Some critical skills that many people can use and refine while in many low-wage jobs include:

    • Reading comprehension
    • Judgment and decision-making
    • Complex problem solving
    • Active learning
    • Writing

Very hopeful fact: “[In the SF Bay Area] Half of the 155 occupations with median wages between $18 and $30 per hour do not require a four-year degree”.

Beyond Skills:  Values and Potential 

Once you have a job, it is useful to think about how your bosses will evaluate you and how they will make decisions about whether to give you raises or promotions.

In order to evaluate and develop employees, managers look at skillsvalues and potential.  Employees who are aware of this can prepare themselves to be evaluated positively.  As a manager, I saw many employees focus on doing their assigned job very well and then be disappointed when they were passed over for promotions.  Often this was because they had not been told how important it is to do the things that demonstrate potential and strong values (and make that visible).
The following tables describe the things that managers consider within each of the three categories.  It is clear that doing the core job is just part of what employers look for.
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Suggestion:  If you know someone who is in a low wage job, you can assume that they would like a higher wage job.  Take a moment to discuss what they do and how they can build up some of the tangible skills or evidence of the traits above.  It could make a huge difference in their lives and  your community.

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