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Adaptability (Young HPC | Skills and behaviours)

Throughout your career, you’re likely to find yourself in many different roles and situations. Work, and life in general, can change quite quickly – and not always for the better. Employers look for people who adapt positively to changing circumstances: whether it’s new job responsibilities or something completely unprecedented, like Covid-19.

What is adaptability?

Adaptability is being able to respond positively and appropriately to changing circumstances. Sometimes you might be driving the changes, for example by getting a new job or house. But at other times they might be caused by events that you have no control over, like a recession or Covid-19.

In work, adaptability means being open to change. For example, seeking out the skills or training you need to operate new equipment. Or willing to relocate to work on a new project in another part of the world.

Adaptability is core to progressing in any career. It enables you to learn and master the additional skills and responsibilities you need as you progress in your chosen path. It’s also extremely useful in construction and building projects, where the work environment literally changes every day. It’s a vital skill in advanced industries too, such as nuclear power generation, where technologies and regulations evolve all the time.

Your ability to adapt ties in strongly with your willingness to learn: adapting to change often means learning new skills or techniques. Together, this can influence how well you develop important skills such as time management or problem solving.

When the winds of change blow, do you build a wall, or do you build a windmill? Think about the statement for a second. What employers are looking for here are people who use change as an opportunity to grow and develop themselves and the people around them in a positive way.

From the HR team at Cavendish Nuclear,
a HPC contractor

Examples of adaptability in action

Adaptability may seem self-explanatory, but it’s useful to look at a few examples of how it can help you in the workplace.

Olly is on course to be promoted, and his employer has set out a training programme to help him acquire the extra skills he’ll need. Olly is enthusiastic about the additional work, and also arranges to sit in with his new department one day a month.

Olly’s reacting positively to the upcoming changes. He’s demonstrating good adaptability by actively seeking out the skills and experience he needs to hit the ground running in his new role.

Amber’s been working on a project for a year, but now it’s being moved from her regional office to the head office. Amber wants to stay on the project, but it’ll mean a move to Nottingham for at least six months.

Amber decides to view the move as an opportunity. She rents a room in Nottingham and commutes home some weekends. Her employer notices her commitment and adaptability. And when the project is a success, Amber returns home and earns a promotion at the company.

Sam’s been working at a small company since it was founded. It’s just been bought by a bigger company, and has moved to some swanky new offices. The company culture is different and he’s not enjoying his work as much.

Sam should weigh up the changes against the increased opportunities of being in a bigger company. Adapting positively to the changes could really help him develop his career.

Why is adaptability important in the workplace?

Change is inevitable at work, so it’s reassuring for employers to know that their staff can step up in response. Being adaptable can also be key to solving problems at work. In a team, people are likely to have different ideas about the best way to proceed. Listening to others, and being prepared to adapt your ideas and approach – based on their opinions and experience – can help you work better and develop new skills. Being adaptable can also help you become a better team player, for example, stepping in to help if others need it.

Adaptability is often cited as a behaviour required by employers in the workplace.

Take this example from an application for a Business Administration Apprentice at HPC: Skills required: Questioning attitude with a willingness to learn, able to embrace change and innovation and seek new ways to improve processes and systems.

Adaptability is crucial to staff working on large projects, such as Hinkley Point C. Depending on your role, the location or details of your job might change by the day. There may be different safety considerations depending where you are on site. Or you may need to adapt to working with other teams or tools. Over time, the work happening on site will change - being able to adapt your skills will help you fit in with what’s needed.

Could you do three different jobs in as many years? Could you travel around the country on your own, working from a laptop? Could you fly out to Brussels to explain policy to our European Partners? You need to be able to deal with the unexpected and that which is beyond your experience.(1)

Civil Service,
recruitment form

How might you have demonstrated adaptability at school or college?

You may well already have demonstrated your adaptability in life. If your family moved during your education, for example, you may have adapted to a new journey to school. If you moved towns, you might also have encountered new rules, teachers and friends. Even moving from primary to secondary school, getting a job or going into training shows that you can adapt.

There may be more subtle examples. Perhaps a new lecturer or teacher prefers work performed a certain way, so you’ve had to modify how you work. You may have learned to adapt to friends moving away - for example, finding new ways to stay in touch, or make new friends. Perhaps you’ve given up time to help friends or family adapt to Covid-19. Giving up some of your weekend time to shop for an elderly relative, for example.

How can you develop your adaptability?

It can be hard to adapt, and it may involve putting in lots of work and learning. This will come more easily if you’re highly motivated, and a key way to achieve this is to view change as an opportunity. When change happens, try to imagine how this change could benefit you or those about you. Be creative! Picture the positives in your mind, then work to make them happen.

This is easiest to do if you’re the person driving the change; for example, because you want to secure a promotion. It’s easy to envisage the benefits of a more senior role, and this can be a great motivator. By making positive changes in your life, you’ll be in charge, rather than having to respond to changes made for you by other people or events.

Before starting my apprenticeship I was stuck in a dead-end job – I was with the company for five years and made no progression. So I had to make a change; it’s the best decision I have made.

Sian Roberts,
Apprentice with Bylor

Be the change!

Adaptability is all about dealing well with change. You can help develop the behaviour by gently pushing yourself and exploring outside your comfort zone. Try:

  1. New experiences: these can be small – like riding a bike to work instead of getting the bus – or big, like travelling to a new country on your own.

  2. New behaviours: Try responding to things positively. For example, if a film has sold out, go and watch something else that you wouldn’t otherwise have picked.

  3. New solutions: View bad news and challenges as problems to be solved. Don’t dwell on setbacks, but try to find positive solutions. So if you don’t get that job you wanted, get feedback and work on any shortcomings. Then next time, perhaps, it’ll be offered to you!

Get more ideas in this blog post.

Showing adaptability during Covid-19

The pandemic presented everyone with huge problems and challenges they didn’t have before, and we’ve all had to adapt. From working and studying at home, to exercising alone or shopping online, people have responded as positively as possible.

If life’s still not returned to normal, use this time to develop your adaptability by looking for the positives – and making them happen. If you can’t keep up football practice, for example, could you learn new skills? Or improve your fitness through running or cycling? And if you’re not taking exams, could you be polishing your CV instead?

How can you demonstrate adaptability?

Adaptability is a subtle behaviour, so you’ll need to think about how to pull out examples when you’re talking to employers. Have you studied many subjects, travelled widely or have lots of hobbies? This could show a desire for new experiences, and the ability to adapt and get the most from them.

At an interview, or even in an informal chat with an employer, you may be asked to talk about a time when you demonstrated adaptability. Think ahead to identify an experience you can share, remembering that adaptability is about responding to changes both good and bad. The key point is to make sure you explain how you adapted positively to the change.

One way almost all of us can highlight our adaptability is to talk about our experience of the lockdown. Any new ways you found to study, socialise, work, or to stay focused are examples of adapting well to an unprecedented change. So reflect on how you can use this time positively and demonstrate adaptability!

Useful links

You can read more about adaptability, and the traits that help you develop it, in the links below:

  1. What do recruiters want? Read this useful information from Bradford University on how to prove your abilities

  2. Are you adaptable? Read the 14 signs of an adaptable person

  3. This article is all about how to increase your adaptability

  4. Read how adaptability makes you a good team player in this Youth Employment blog

  5. Did you know adaptability is also an important leadership skill?

Related skills

Adaptability crosses many other skills and behaviours in the workplace.

Being willing to look at a challenge differently or try out a new approach can help with problem solving. It shows you’re not afraid to look at problems in a new light. Or to experiment, which can often lead to breakthroughs. Read more about problem solving.

Adaptable people often make great team players. They’re not threatened by changes to the status quo. And they’re willing to try new things or embrace a new way of working. Read more about team working.

Adaptable people often have reserves of resilience too. When life doesn’t turn out quite as you planned, you need to be able to accept what’s happened and adapt accordingly. Read more about resilience.

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