Transferable (dancing) skills

I am a big believer in the value of transferable skills, which is why I find the French education system so hard to understand. Essentially, you need to take business studies and do a business degree to have any hope of getting a decent job in an office. For me, university was (and is – my Masters doesn’t finish until September) about building competence and ability. Being able to construct an argument, negotiate with peers, work in teams on presentations, organise myself to meet deadlines, learn to deal with incompetent tutors and co-students who perhaps I didn’t like that much. All stuff that serves you will in the world of work.

Yesterday, however, my unwavering belief in fact that skills learnt in one situation will help in another was seriously challenged. By Nike Dance Workout.

How hard can it be? I thought. Thirteen years of classical dance lessons plus a few of salsa and rock, I’ll be fine. Oh yes, my transferable skills kicked in OK for some of it. I kept up with the choreography and wasn’t too tired at the end. But somehow I’ll doubt I’ll ever make a great hip hop dancer.

This is the difference between skills and knowledge – let’s leave aside innate ability for the moment which our prof de danse obviously had in spadefuls. Skills are things that help you gather knowledge: competences, abilities, whatever buzzword you want to use. Knowledge is teachable and therefore learnable. Some people would argue that skills are teachable. I agree to a certain extent but there is a difference between teaching communication skills and teaching how to manage a risk. Skills are things you can build on, improve with practice and awareness and you can cover up your lack of them by being excellent in other things. Missing knowledge lets you down with a bump.

In project management recruitment we do have to ask what is more important: is it that the candidate has great people skills, the ability to get things done, attention to detail and a capacity to learn? Or is it that they have a certificate with ‘I’m a project manager’ written on it, awarded from one of our esteemed institutes?

French employers already know the answer. So do I. What do you think?

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