Nova Academies’ Head of Talent on the 5 Skills You Need to Excel in the 21st-Century Workforce
Jane Kimani knows talent when she sees it. As the director of talent and partnerships at Nova Academies, a pan-African network of schools that prepares students to become leaders, she’s responsible for selecting high-performing staff who are eager to grow with the institution. Nova Academies plans to establish 100 schools over the next 25 years throughout Africa. This big vision requires bold thinkers who are willing to try new things.
Nova Academies is renowned for its intense focus on preparing students for the 21st-century workforce. Kimani and the rest of the Nova staff have thought long and hard about the skills necessary to compete in today’s top industries, and they work hard to instill these in students through in-class and out-of-class learning
MindSky caught up with Kimani to find out her take on the top skills job seekers need to stand out in today’s job market.
1. Communication skills
Both oral and written communication skills are a necessity. From explaining a policy to expressing a new idea, communication is a skill that’s used every day across all departments.
At Nova academies, we work with different stakeholders – students, parents, faculty, and others – so we really have to understand how to communicate with each of those audiences. Top employees will think about how to package a particular message for different audiences.
We see people who come in with typos in their writing, or they may use red text and fancy fonts in their emails. So we have to remind people to think about all aspects of communication to make sure they’re promoting professionalism. We also have to train people on how to effectively design communication meant for different audiences.
2. Critical Thinking Skills
Critical thinking, or the analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment, is another essential skill. We define it as being able to find a solution in consultation with others and through your own independent analysis of the problem. People who are critical thinkers know how to come up with their own answers to the demands and challenges of their work.
For instance, if you’re pitching a product and a customer says no, a non-critical thinker won’t have an alternative answer. But a critical thinker will quickly think up how to get the customer to a yes by assessing the customer’s needs. They can then describe the benefits that are most likely to appeal to the customer. So even if a customer’s answer doesn’t match their script, they’ll be able to think outside the script to bring the customer to a yes, or close to a yes.
“If you’re aspiring to become a leader, then there is no way to progress without failing and getting feedback.”
A lot of today’s work is enabled by technology. Increased efficiency comes from being able to effectively leverage the technologies in the workplace. At Nova Academies, we look for people who are adept at manipulating technology and using it for driving productivity. We invest in training when we find gaps.
4. Openness to failure and feedback
Globally, failure is associated with criticism. For many, failure and feedback are about someone pinpointing your weaknesses. But failure is necessary for growth. If you’re aspiring to become a leader, then there is no way to progress without failing and getting feedback.
At Nova Academies, we promote failure. If we don’t promote failing forward (i.e. failing and growing from the experience), students don’t learn how to take the next step and try something new. They become averse to taking risks, which won’t promote their innovation edge. I’m not talking about just failing, but failing and learning something from it. Once you’ve failed, you should name it, talk about it, and then decide what you’re going to do differently as you go forward.
We coined the mantra: What I gain, I retain. My attainment of yesterday becomes my new starting point for today. In other words: Yesterday’s ceiling is today’s floor.
5. Analytical skills
There is a big appetite for analytical minds in the workforce, though what that means varies from sector to sector. At Nova, we are crazy about relating to or using analysis or logical reasoning. This is especially true when we think about data and the evidence it presents. Employers want people who understand the power and potential of data for decision-making. The people who can use data to make decisions have an edge. We are moving away from qualitative to quantitative decision-making, so there’s a need for people entering the workforce to have analytical skills.