Chapter 6: Workplace Essential Skills
What is an essential employability skill? According to Skills/Compétencies Canada (2021), essential skills are those skills necessary to “carry out activities or job functions involving ideas, things, and/or people”. These are skills you can develop throughout your whole life. If you are worried that you are weak in one of these area, don’t worry! You can acquire or further develop essential skills through practice, training, and education (Skills/Compétencies Canada, 2021). The nine essential skills are:
- Verbal communication
- Document Use
- Collaboration with others
- Digital use
- Critical thinking
- Continuous learning
Not only are these skills essential for success at work, but they are necessary skills in an education setting and in life as these nine skills provide the foundation of all other learning. To some degree, these nine skills are used in nearly every job and industry.
To get started, start with a self-assessment. A number of websites have free self-assessment activities for these skills. Skills/Compétencies Canada has a free, online assessment tool that you can take here as well as download as an app for your phone, and WorkSafeBC has an employability skills self-assessment.
In this chapter, you will learn a little bit about each of the nine skills, what each one means, what the role they play at work, and why they are important for your work integrated learning experience.
Reading, Writing, and Verbal Communication
The ability to communicate clearly and concisely is one of the skills employers look for when hiring employees. Communication skills are discussed in depth in Chapter 8: Interpersonal Skills. Chapter 9: Effective Communication, and in Chapter 10: Writing at Work. Instead of reviewing each of these skills again, let’s look at an example of how these work together.
It is important to be able to read accurately and quickly in the workplace. There are many different documents, all with different purposes, audiences, and strategies for understanding. You might engage with invoices, customer requests, emails, instructions, schedules, and financial documents. Each of these types will require attention to specific pieces of information. You need to know how to look to find the information you need. For example, when the photocopier is jammed and an important client is waiting for their documents, you will need to navigate the photocopier manual quickly, going directly to the page you need. You can’t read the manual from beginning to end. In contrast, some documents do need to be read more closely. For example, if you have received a large order of supplies, you will want to read carefully to ensure that you have received everything you ordered.
Samira has received an order of office supplies and needs to ensure the invoice is correct before she submits it for payment. Let’s look at it together.
Looking at the invoice above, answer the following questions.
- What is the per unit price for the 8 ½ x 11 photocopier paper?
- How many boxes of retractable ballpoint pens were ordered?
- What is the price of one White-out Easy Grip Tape?
How to Improve Your Reading
Here are a few of tips to help you improve your reading skills:
- Read regularly and with a purpose. As you read, think about the information you need to find. Reading is a skill that you can improve by doing more of it. If you are a reluctant reader, find something that you enjoy reading and it will get easier.
- Look for document design. Read similar items to those you encounter at work and look at how and where things are laid out. These are clues you can use later..
- Limit distractions while you read. If you are reading on paper, uUse a ruler or piece of paper to move down the page line by line. This is helpful for quite complex reading. On your computer, close other windows, turn off notifications, and increase the font size.
- Take notes. If you are reading something complicated or that you need to completely understand, it can be helpful to make notes or highlight words or sections. Really engage with the material and ask questions or reflect on what you are reading. Keep a dictionary handy to look up unfamiliar words (Jordan, 2020).
- Slow down. Reading quickly is not always best, if you need to fully comprehend the material.
- Skim or scan for information. If it isn’t critical that you understand the full document but are searching for specific information, it can be helpful to simply scan the document.
- Listen instead. See if the book is available as an audio book. For work documents, you can have the computer read them to you using a built-in screen reader.
In most jobs, you will need to do a variety of writing tasks. Remember, your writing may be the first or only contact with a client, and you will want to set a good first impression by writing clearly, concisely, and professionally. Since not all writing will be the same; , you might be asked to send an email a client, take a message for a staff member, or write a piece of the company’s website; ensure you understand the appropriate audience and purpose as discussed in Chapter XX. Using proper grammar, punctuation, and spelling shows professionalism, as do proofreading and editing. Using these skills in your resume and cover letter will demonstrate to potential employers your professional writing proficiency.
How to Improve Your Writing
Here are a few of tips to help you improve your writing skills:
- Use the features in your word processor. Pay attention to the spelling and grammar errors that most word processing programs automatically underline. You can also adjust your word processing program to catch other errors. You can also consider using other writing support software like Grammarly.
- Know your weaknesses as a writer and check for them. If you tend to make a common error or have trouble with a particular piece of punctuation, grammar, or spelling, use the Find feature to help you scan the document for that specific error. For example, if commas are troublesome for you, search all the commas and ensure they are used correctly.
- Ask for feedback. Your coworkers, supervisor, and instructors can all give you feedback on your writing strengths and challenges. If you want a broader context for writing, consider taking a course in business writing.
- Read and write regularly. Read good writing and ask yourself what you like about it. Then, try to emulate it! The more you write with a purpose and goals, the better you will get.
Verbal communication in a professional environment includes “any type of interaction that makes use of spoken words” including answering the phone, personal discussions, staff meetings, presentations, and informal conversations (Inc., 2020).
In Samira’s position, she is usually the first person to greet the clients either over the phone or in person. She has a nice smile and a clear voice. It seemed like a bit of a mouthful to say “Good Morning, Perez, Patel, and Erickson Accounting” but now that she’s familiar with it, it’s actually quite easy. She slows down and takes her time. She keeps a notepad by her phone and has a sticky note with key questions to ask customers to complete a basic invoice.
Demonstrating strong verbal communication skills, including “speaking clearly, confidently, and with poise” means you will be seen as confident and someone able to build rapport (Hawkins, 2021).
Characteristics of an effective verbal communicator at work are:
- Active listening.
- Adaptability. This is the ability to adapt your communication style to support the situation. Some situations allow for a relaxed, informal style such as talking with co-workers, others, such as a client who has financial concerns will require a more solemn, professional tone.
- Confidence and assertive.
- Constructive feedback both giving and receiving.
- Emotional intelligence.
- Interpersonal skills.
- Interpretation of body language. This will help you understand how someone is feeling but we aware of cultural differences which can lead to incorrect assumptions.
- Open-mindedness. Open-mindedness is the willingness to consider new or different ideas or opinions that are different from our own (Cambridge Dictionary, 2021).
- Patience. Patience guides our ability to listen to and to deliver a message that is fully understood. This can sometimes take time depending on the information divide between parties.
- Simplifying the complex.
- Storytelling. It is understood that storytelling “enables the listener to convert the ideas presented in the story into [their] own ideas and experiences …mak[ing] the content … more personal and relatable” (Nandy, 2017).
We discussed communication at length in Chapter 9 Effective Communication, so here we will focus on one common example of verbal communication skills: making work presentations.
- “Figure 6.1 Sample invoice” by Deb Nielsen, Emily Ballantyne, Faatimah Murad and Melissa Fournier is licensed under a CC BY-NC 4.0 licence.
- “Figure 6.2 Effective verbal communicator word cloud” by Deb Nielsen, Emily Ballantyne, Faatimah Murad and Melissa Fournier is licensed under a CC BY-NC 4.0 licence.