Competitive Advantage Delivers a Safe Landing

Competitive advantage is the reason you, or your protege, will be hired instead of the other guy.

How do you gain competitive advantage? In a word: SkillsA specific skill set will cause an employer to offer you (or your student) the job, instead of all those other applicants vying for the same position.

How might competitive advantage look in the case of one particular occupation?

First, imagine that you are in an airplane. Your flight has begun its descent. The weather is stormy, and air traffic has backed up. You see lightening and grip your arm rest. What if the air traffic controller responsible for your plane gets distracted right about now? What if she never learned how bad weather affects safe distances between planes? Or what if she’s slow to recognize that there’s a problem hidden behind the clouds?


air traffic employee has competitive advantage

Air traffic controllers aren’t hired unless they are competitive.

You can be assured that the one guiding your plane is not easily distracted. She understands how stormy weather affects aircraft. She can read and respond to the ever-changing signals on her monitor. In short, she has developed a specialized skill set.

For starters, your air traffic controller will have the right kind of abilities. That’s why she was chosen for the job. She’ll be the sort of person who can concentrate and stay calm under stress. She’ll have high spatial aptitude. In other words, she can look at the two-dimensional image on her screen and visualize what’s happening in the three-dimensional airspace around an actual plane. She’ll also be high in both inductive reasoning and analytical reasoning. Those two aptitudes, when they occur together in the high range, turn her into a natural-born troubleshooter. They give her a sixth sense about potential problems, plus the ability to solve them. Pronto.*

A competitive candidate is also knowledgeable. Knowledge is part of her skill set. In a two-year training program, she has learned about maps and weather and flight regulations and other aspects of aviation. She has honed her basic math skills. Therefore, she can quickly and accurately compute the distances and speeds necessary to recommend changes to pilots. She has also learned how to use technology: flight-control software, a variety of radios, and aircraft communication and guidance systems.

Her complete skill set gives her competitive advantage. Once she gets the job, she’ll guide your plane to a safe landing.

What’s worth remembering about competitive advantage?

  • First, competitive advantage means a set of skills, not just one superior skill.
  • Second, those skills must be demonstrated. For example, air traffic controllers must earn the appropriate credentials. They must also perform well on both an aptitude test and a pre-employment test..
  • Third, a skill set does not happen by accident. Skill development begins after a career goal is chosen. Only then does the candidate know the exact skills she needs to acquire.
  • Fourth, a college degree might offer competitive advantage. But it might not. Air traffic controllers don’t need a Bachelor’s degree—and they earn $123,000 a year!
  • Fifth, there are thousands of good jobs in the world of work. Like air traffic control, the jobs that pay the best tend to require a specialized set of skills.

If you are a mentor, you can help your students become competitive today. Support them to discover their strengths and connect their talents to learning opportunities. That way they can build skills and land the jobs they want tomorrow.

*I want to thank Paula Kosin, an articulate talent development consultant. She tailored her knowledge of aptitudes to this particular occupation.

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