Think of technical skills, and you probably imagine something related to IT or technology – data science, maybe, or computer programming. But in fact, the term “technical skills” spans the huge variety of “hard” skills that are necessary for many jobs and industries. And lots of them have nothing to do with IT.
What are technical skills?
Technical skills vary enormously from industry to industry, but they essentially boil down to the skills and competencies needed to perform job-specific tasks, whether digital or physical. They’re the practical skills required to do a job successfully, in other words.
So, if you're a nurse, your technical skills will include inserting IVs, reading patient charts, and all the other tasks wrapped up in delivering patient care. If you're a truck driver, your technical skills revolve around being able to safely drive a huge truck and deliver cargo where it's needed. And so on and so on, whether you're a plumber, hair stylist, accountant, lawyer... Whatever your role, there will be skills and expertise – digital and physical – that are particular to your industry. These are your technical skills.
The in-demand technical skills of the future
The nature of work is changing, and technology is playing a greater role in almost all professions. Yet even as more and more tasks become automated, there's still enormous value in technical skills. In fact, in the complex, hybrid workplaces of the future – where tasks and goals are accomplished through a blend of machine and human power – I believe technical skills will become more valuable than ever.
So, what sort of skills will be most in demand in our rapidly evolving workplaces? Obviously, technical skills in coding, AI, and data science are already in high demand. But looking beyond IT and technology, some of the essential technical skills for 21st-century work are likely to include:
- Customer relationship management
- Project management
- Social media management
- Video and other content creation
- Product development and product lifecycle management
- Technical writing, or being able to explain complex subjects in plain English
- Data literacy, or being able to effectively use and make sense of data
- Mechanical maintenance
How to develop your technical skills
The specifics will vary, of course, but generally speaking, you develop technical skills through a combination of training, education, on-the-job learning, and good old-fashioned experience. With this in mind, here’s how to ensure your technical skills stay sharp:
- A good starting point is to encourage your employer to invest in the technical training needed to do your job. As part of this, consider the increasing role of technology and how new technologies might change certain aspects of your job. A project manager, for example, may find themselves increasingly overseeing remote team members and may therefore want to brush up their knowledge of tools that promote remote collaboration.
- On top of workplace learning, you’ll need to take an active, independent approach to learning if you want to keep up with the latest topics and trends in your industry. I find books, audiobooks, industry magazines, and podcasts are the easiest way to keep up with the latest in my field. Try to embrace such self-directed learning as your personal growth time rather than another burden on the to-do list.
- Sign up for relevant online courses. Whatever your chosen field, there will be tons of structured courses online through providers like Coursera and Udemy. For example, Udemy has courses on everything from electrical wiring to making marketing videos. If possible, seek out courses that offer bite-size learning tools (think short videos, quizzes, brief tutorials, etc.). Not only is this easier to fit in around everyday life, learning in short, focused bursts is great for knowledge retention.
- Look at informal learning channels, like YouTube. There’s a wealth of information on YouTube, and many educators – including myself – have embraced it as a way to deliver informative, engaging content.
- Make learning social, if you can, by joining forces with other learners. Are there, for example, others within your organization who are facing the same challenges or on the same educational path? Sharing the experience can help to boost accountability and make learning more fun.
- Learn from others in your field, perhaps through job shadowing or by working with a mentor. Spending time with an expert is a great way to pick up practical and technical skills.
- Finally, adopt the mindset of a lifelong learner, someone who is continually curious and keen to learn new things. This is vital because technology is advancing at such a rapid pace that almost all jobs will change to some degree. Far from making technical skills less important, I believe this rapid evolution will make technical skills more important than ever – but it will require you to continually keep your skills sharp as technology evolves.