Transferable Skills: Reading Between the Lines


Transferable Skills are a Rehabilitation Counsellor’s bread and butter.

With so many of our clients having to consider work in a new field due to medical restrictions, it’s nearly impossible to avoid exploring transferable skills along the path to new employment.

Plus, helping your client identify their transferable skills is a great confidence-builder - who wouldn't love seeing all of their skills, abilities, interests and aptitudes in right there in writing?

And it's a big deal - often, confidence is even more important than objective function when it comes to getting back to work. 

So - What are Transferable Skills?

Transferable Skills are skills that allow us to transition from one job to another without necessarily having done that new job before. We can pick up transferable skills on the job and via education, training and experience, but also at home, in hobbies and through volunteering. 

Transferable Skills Don’t Exist in a Vacuum!

A crucial point about transferable skills is that they need to be taken in context. Not only the context of your client’s level of function, but also, the context of today's labour market.

  • How does your client's current level of function impact their ability to use these skills? 
  • Are their skills relevant to what employers are looking for today?

Maybe your client was really amazing at managing high stress, high pressure projects and deadlines… until they began to experience anxiety and depression.

Or perhaps your client had a typing speed of 120 words per minute… until they developed carpal tunnel. 

And maybe… you have a client who was a big player in the financial services industry... but hasn’t done that job in several years and their knowledge is pretty out of date. 

Transferable Skills don’t exist in a vacuum! Whenever you identify a skill, follow up by exploring: 

  • How does my client's reported/observed level of function impact on this skill today
  • Could your client manage or improve their function so that they can carry out this skill? (pssst… the answer isn’t just about treatment)
  • Could the work environment be managed or modified to support my client in performing this skill?
  • When was the last time your client used this skill? Is it still relevant to the current job market?

Hidden Transferable Skills: Reading Between the Lines

Whenever I think about transferable skills, I always remember one of my first clients. 

Jane* was referred to me after not having worked for nearly a decade. She had no confidence in her skills, and due to an illness (which she was managing really well under medical supervision), she had not had many chances to develop her skills since she stopped working. 

Because Jane had minimal experience, and the experience she did have was fairly outdated, she and I decided to try out a tool called the Congruence Skills Sort

I really like the CSS for new consultants because it gives a great framework for asking questions as you explore the skills on the cards with your client, in real-time. You can talk about tasks that your client enjoys, the sorts of tasks they have done before and how confident they feel about doing those tasks now. 

Its a great way to get some direction with a client who might say “I have no idea what I can do or what I enjoy”.

We identified that Jane had some basic administrative and clerical skills, neither of which particularly excited her. Plus, she had some serious medical restrictions that made working with other people or in an office environment pretty tough.


Jane was really enthusiastic about helping me organise and score the CSS cards. She offered to help me sort and categorise the cards as we went - and I couldn’t help but notice how easily she gave things order and calculated quick sums in her head. 

We spoke about things she enjoys: collecting vintage jewellery, as well as looking after her little garden balcony.

We were beginning to paint this picture of Jane as someone who enjoyed giving things order - tangible things - not numbers or data. And she had a lot of hands-on hobbies that she engaged with on her own time, at her own pace.

Putting it All Together - Applying Skills to the Labour Market

Jane definitely wasn’t ready for work - it would be too much of a jump from what her life had been like for nearly the past decade. Her health would very likely have suffered if we had started looking at paid employment - too much, waaaay too soon, which would also put the rapport we had built with each other seriously at risk.

But… Jane WAS ready to contribute and start incorporating some structured activity back into her life

I talked to Jane about whether she would enjoy volunteering in a quiet store - perhaps sorting the shelves and the stock there. These were real, tangible things she could work with, not abstract numbers and data. 

So off we went - and it wasn’t too long until we found somewhere nearby that was sorely in need of someone to help them get their stock in order for a couple of hours a week. 

We had taken the first step in helping Jane find structure and tangible accomplishment in her life based on the skills she had and what she enjoyed doing. Jane really enjoyed finishing the end of the day looking back over the stock she had helped sort and give order to.

Transferable Skills Are About Reading the Between the Lines

I never would have helped Jane uncover her interests and talents by just looking at her work history, or straight-out asking her about her skills. Transferable skills are so much more than someone's work history or experience.

Identifying transferable skills is about reading the between the lines just as much we need to collect objective information about a person’s experience and function. We owe it to our clients to dive deeper than their job history. 

What transferable skills might you pick up on by reading between the lines?


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