To Acquire Valuable Transferable Skills in High School, Avoid the Bin Mentality

As a student, it may seem logical to assume that careers follow in a linear fashion from high school subject bins. Unfortunately, this kind of thinking can lead to an emphasis on specialist knowledge at the expense of transferable skills – for example, “I don’t need to learn computer programming because I don’t want to be a computer programmer”. In reality, work environments are fluid. Modern opportunities don’t fit into bins, and transferable skills are the most valuable currency.

Specialist knowledge is a familiarity with a set of facts or a particular context. A transferable skill is a proficiency or ability that can be applied in many different contexts (including emerging ones) and to many different problems. Specialist knowledge can become obsolete or irrelevant, is easily forgotten, and can be looked up as required. Transferable skills require practice to master and demand a significant investment of time. High school provides an ideal opportunity for students to begin to master valuable transferable skills, but only if they are willing to step outside of the bin mentality and think strategically about courses in these terms.

Among the most valuable transferrable skills are writing, math and computer programming. Only the first of these is currently required to grade 12, but in the present (and future) economy, nobody should be graduating from high school without some level of mastery in all three. Proficiency in math (all kinds) has been shown to be the best predictor of academic and career success in any field, and even one high school course in computer programming gives students an advantage for summer and coop jobs.

Many students avoid taking high school physics because of the perception that it is difficult and because “physics” or “physicist” rarely shows up in job searches. But the study of physics in high school provides the opportunity to practice a number of skills that are valued throughout the economy, including the translation between words, pictures and equations, making deductions from a set of very few principles, turning deductions into derivations thereby expanding specialist knowledge, making predictions, and inventing. Physics also reinforces math and computer programming skills. It is no coincidence that physicists are employed in fields as diverse as finance and medicine.

Transferable skills can be thought of as a portable tool box that will allow you to adapt to a changing economy and to jump on emerging fields. The most valuable transferable skills require the most time to master, but the good news is that in high school, time is on your side. Think strategically when you are making course selections, and put your time and effort into mastering the skills that will give you the edge in a modern economy.


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