By RUTH MANTELL
In 2012, creativity and adaptability will be key to landing and keeping a job for many workers, as staff levels remain lean and employees are expected to respond to a wide variety of demands, experts say.
Economists don’t expect loads of job growth, but there could be opportunities in areas such as health care, professional services, retail and some manufacturing, says Harry Holzer, a public-policy professor at Georgetown University. Also, continuing churn in the labor market means that even in areas with few new jobs, there will still be openings when workers move around.
Technical knowledge and experience will be required for certain spots. “For professional services you usually need a professional degree. In health you usually need some training,” Mr. Holzer says. “Manufacturing needs some occupational training. Retail is different. It doesn’t require specific occupational training, but it does often require some interpersonal skills.”
In addition to the standard prerequisites, employers will be looking for workers who are able to quickly adapt to new responsibilities as companies respond to changing economic and industry trends. So workers should highlight their creative skills to differentiate themselves, says Lawrence Katz, an economist at Harvard University.
“Firms have so many job seekers per opening. They are going to want candidates with clear credentials, but also a little extra shine in interactive skills and creativity,” Mr. Katz says. “They are less willing in a weak labor market to take chances.”
Here are other skills experts recommend workers should pick up and enhance.
Technical literacy. It’s important for workers at a variety of levels to be familiar with some of the technical, if mundane, processes that keep organizations running smoothly.
Take the health-care industry. Providers are bringing on more technology when it comes to record keeping and billing.
“A knowledge of electronic data handling is just a really big plus. That goes for receptionists to the doctors who are becoming employees of larger hospital systems,” says Warren Bobrow, president of All About Performance, a Los Angeles-based skills-assessment consultancy.
Workers also need to be good users of social media. There’s a fine line between letting interested parties know about the latest news and bombarding them with too much information. Still, individuals shouldn’t be afraid to use networking sites such as LinkedIn to make employment connections.
Business acumen. As companies remain concerned about demand for their products and services, a wide variety of employees need to think about sales, experts say. Even those outside of marketing should care about revenue, and making sure customers are happy.
Mr. Bobrow has clients in Colorado, an orthopedic practice with more than a dozen doctors, and those doctors don’t become partners until client-satisfaction surveys are reviewed and good results are found.
“They are in a competitive marketplace because so much of their work is based on referrals,” Mr. Bobrow says. “The doctors realize that their revenue depends on all of them bringing in more patients and having patients come back.”
Being savvy about pleasing customers isn’t about spin, says Ben Dattner, a New York-based organizational psychologist and author. Rather, workers need to illustrate the advantages of their products and services to please employers dealing with an ultra-competitive environment.
“Try to get to know your customer, the market and figure out how you can put things together in a package that adds value,” Mr. Dattner says. “Law firms are increasingly recruiting professionals who [bring clients with them]. The actual practice of law is becoming commoditized to some extent, but the ability to bring in customer relationships and be flexible is what companies are increasingly looking for.”
General proficiency. Companies are looking for workers who are flexible and can take on functions in various jobs as market demands change, says Greg Barnett, director of product development at Hogan Assessment Systems, a Tulsa, Okla.-based personality-assessment and consulting firm. That is, companies want workers who are “solid organizational citizens”—quick learners who are compliant, Mr. Barnett says.
“People are being asked to do more,” he says. “There are concerns when applicants are good workers, but not people who are able to learn and change direction and change their performance.”
Dan Ryan, principal at a Nashville, Tenn.-based executive search firm, stresses the importance of project management and communication skills, which also happen to be transferrable. “The ability of people at all levels to clearly communicate is not what it used to be,” he says. People “who can do that very well can differentiate themselves.”