The evolution of talent – skills + expertise + experience

I recently read an article about the emerging IT talent shortage in Canada, and it got me thinking about what “talent” means in relation to career stages.  The article says that three types of candidate are currently having difficulty finding IT jobs, despite the shortage:  juniors, immigrants, and seasoned professionals.  What can we say about each of their talents and the impact of talent on job prospects?

These days, the word “talent” often refers to a person or a group of people – we speak in terms of the talent pool and talent management.  However, a talent, according to Wikipedia, is “a group of aptitudes useful for some activity, talents may refer to aptitudes themselves.”  According to Wiktionary, talent means “a marked natural ability or skill” among other things.

Strangely enough, companies typically talk about specific talent requirements while employees focus on knowledge, past experience, and performance.  We often say that a person has natural talent (for drawing or painting, for example) but also believe they can further develop their talent through training and experience.  In the IT world, is computer programming a natural talent or a developed skill?

In my opinion, talent should include at least the following:

  • Expertise – the ability to do research, to understand new things, and to learn how to do things;
  • Experience – the ability to choose solutions or paths that work best based on prior history;
  • Maturity – the ability to sort out priorities, make decisions, and recover from set-backs;
  • Innovation – the ability to think outside the box and imagine new approaches or directions;
  • Communications – the ability to speak, write and present to others; and
  • Collaboration – the ability to negotiate, build consensus, and arrive at group decisions.

As I often do, I turned to Google to see what is being said about career stages.  To my surprise, it seems that there is no general agreement on career stages – anything from three to nine major stages were being proposed.  It can be  career stages are also related to life stages, which reminded me of a good book I read a long time ago called Passages (by Gail Sheehy).

Just for fun, let’s try to map career stages onto the Gartner technology hype cycle.

A “technology trigger” can be replaced by a career trigger such as a first job (a junior employee) or the completion of a university education.  It’s hard to pull the career trigger if you cannot get your first job, which is a dilemma for the junior job hunter.  Talent at this stage would be based on natural aptitude or formal education (or both).

The career rapid ramp-up phase includes discovering interests and “hidden” talents, and this results in practical, real-life experience.  People at this stage may believe there are no limits to what is achievable – eventually there comes a peak of inflated career expectations.  People at this point will say: “I can be the best in the world” or “I can be the leader in my field.”  For IT careers, a correlation to technology hype cycles is also likely – mobility, cloud computing, big data and social networking are fertile areas for acquiring talent these days.

Talent versus career management has been discussed in an article in The Toronto Star.   The perspective is that defining talent requirements are a company’s responsibility while managing a career to acquire in-demand talents is a personal responsibility.  The key is to keep the two in synch throughout the career stages.  This requires continuous improvement through training and skills development.

For some people, inflated career expectations may actually be realized; for others “the train will fall completely off the tracks.”  This happens, sometimes quite publicly, with careers in sports and entertainment.

For many people, their career lies somewhere between these two extremes.  They, at some point, will face the trough of career disillusionment.  This can be a period of disappointment or disillusionment when your career seems to be stalled, possibly due to a mismatch of talents or unwise career moves.  At this stage, most people become more aware of their talent shortcomings, re-define their aspirations, and assess their future plans.  This can be a good time for course corrections, or even a radical change such as moving to a new country (and/or company).  It may also be a period of deep reflection and re-evaluation of goals.

The fourth stage, the slope of career enlightenment, is a consolidation and maturation period during which your talents become fully developed, are in more demand, and your successes are more significant.  The perception is that you are moving in the right direction.  This will often be a time of change from doing to leading.  It may also be a period of innovation and invention, based on your broader understanding of what is needed and what it takes to exploit new opportunities.

The final stage is the plateau of productivity.  By now your skills, expertise and experience are all well-established.  Although it could be seen as the “beginning of the end,” it is also a time of higher productivity, increased influence, greater recognition and more rewards.  The “seasoned professional” may need to re-fresh specific areas of expertise to keep up with the technology changes, but this is balanced by well-developed skills and the wide-ranging set of experiences (the idea that nothing is ever really new).  This stage can include a transition from previous roles into teaching, coaching and mentoring.

These ideas can be summarized in a chart:

Career Trigger Inflated Career Expectations Trough of Career Disillusionment Slope of Career Enlightenment Plateau of Career  Productivity
Expertise Academic – you know some things You think you know everything You don’t know everything You pull it all together You’ve seen it all before
Experience Low Growing Includes minor set-backs Broadening Visionary
Maturity Low Low Increasing Mature Wise old man
Innovation Few ideas Lots of ideas Self-doubts Confident Risk-taking
Communication Unrefined Ego-driven Misunderstood Highly capable Respected
Collaboration Skeptical Bull in a china shop Crossed connections Leader and facilitator Networked and respected

These are a few of my thoughts based on my own experience.  I’m sure your views may be very different.  Please provide your comments and feedback, both positive and negative!

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Don Sheppard
Don Sheppard
I'm a IT management consultant. I began my career in railways and banks after which I took up the consulting challenge! I try to keep in touch with a lot of different I&IT topics but I'm usually working in areas that involve service management and procurement. I'm into developing ISO standards, current in the area of cloud computing (ISO JTC1/SC38). I'm also starting to get more interested in networking history, so I guess I'm starting to look backwards as well as forwards! My homepage is but I am found more here.

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