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Skills for Success: Adaptability

The Government of Canada’s Skills for Success model defines adaptability as “your ability to achieve or adjust goals when expected or unexpected change occurs.” You show this skill by planning, staying focused, persisting, and overcoming setbacks.


Being adaptable helps you to look at problems in different ways, co-operate with others, and turn challenges into opportunities. At work, this skill can help you take on new projects, meet adjusted deadlines, apply new tools, and manage increased job responsibilities.

The Government of Canada’s Skills for Success model includes 9 skills that help people to thrive, both at work and in life. Launched in 2021, this model updates the original Essential Skills framework to reflect changes in the Canadian labour market and the modern workplace. Adaptability is 1 of 2 new skills that were added to the new model, along with creativity.

With artificial intelligence, automation, and other technology constantly changing the way we live, work, and learn, it’s important to be nimble and ready to pivot. Change can be stressful—a flexible mindset will help you stay calm and positive when you step out of your comfort zone.

What does adaptability include?

The Skills for Success model divides adaptability into 6 components:

  1. Show responsibility. Focus on the task in hand, manage your time, and complete tasks to show that you are dependable.
  2. Keep going. Think about changes that have already happened and look out for future changes. Know when to keep trying and when to adapt your approach and mindset.
  3. Stay calm. Be positive and optimistic when you face setbacks. Recover when you were not able to stay calm. Encourage others to stay calm.
  4. Set or adjust your goals and expectations. Set goals and expectations based on your skill sets, resources, and supports.
  5. Plan and prioritize. Define tasks, milestones, and longer-term approaches to achieve goals. List tasks in order of importance and work through the tasks in order.
  6. Seek self-improvement. Think about your skill sets and resources and find ways to improve. Learn from setbacks and mistakes.

Measuring adaptability

Your proficiency level is the level of adaptability you show in different situations. As your adaptability level increases, you are able to:

  • Adapt to larger or more complex changes with less supervision.
  • Identify information resources and learn on your own.
  • Stay positive, carry on, and manage your emotions in response to higher levels of stress.

The Skills for Success model defines 3 levels of adaptability: entry, intermediate, and advanced. Here are some examples of what your skills might look like at each level:

  • Entry level. You need to learn a new skill to complete your role in a team project. Your manager provides you with a list of instructions to help you complete the task.
  • Intermediate level. You are asked to take on a project that’s outside your comfort zone. Your manager suggests a general approach in the project brief. You follow up with some questions and do a bit of internet research until you feel comfortable tackling the challenge.
  • Advanced level. You are leading a complex software development project. You need to adjust plans and goals in response to unexpected roadblocks, conduct research into technological trends, and use a variety of resources such as team members, industry reports, and online forums to find solutions.

Adaptability skills in action

Adaptability is especially important in unpredictable, fast-moving, or high-stress environments. For example:

  • Nurses care for diverse patients and handle emergencies in environments that can be demanding and unpredictable.
  • Sound engineers at live events must take initiative and make decisions quickly to solve problems as they arise.
  • Systems security analysts monitor and respond to security problems. They must keep up with a rapidly changing field to recommend up-to-date security procedures and enhancements.

Adaptability strategies

As you develop your adaptability skills, keep these strategies in mind:

  • Recognize that change will happen. Try to anticipate changes in your life and work and meet them proactively.
  • Believe in your ability to improve. Meet challenges, change old habits, recover from setbacks, and learn from mistakes. Recognize that failure is an opportunity to grow.
  • Question your assumptions. Recognize your own patterns and beliefs so you can see when they may be holding you back. Be willing to adjust your plans, strategies, and approaches as needed.
  • Be open to feedback. Learn from the ideas and perspectives of others. Build a strong network, and consider finding a coach or a mentor.
  • Keep learning. Stay up-to-date with the latest industry trends, technologies, and best practices. Take advantage of training and development opportunities offered by your employer or other organizations.
  • Initiate positive change. Take on new projects and responsibilities, explore different roles in your organization, and look for opportunities to work with different teams and departments.
  • Hold firm to values that are important to you! Being adaptable does not mean that you shouldn’t stay true to your core beliefs, and interests.

Helpful resources

Online learning courses

Improve your core skills at home by taking online courses. Online learning offers courses covering a wide range of topics, and some platforms offer free courses or free trials. Find out what your options are by searching these online learning sites for the skills you want to build:

Check out these resources to help you assess and build your adaptability skills:

  • Try the Skills Canada essential skills test on continuous learning.
  • Download the Skills for Success Work Ready Youth Program adaptability workbook to explore this skill and see what areas might need improvement.
  • Work through the ABC Skills Hub online adaptability course to learn more about strategies for copying with change while staying true to your values. You can also download the Get Started adaptability workbook [pdf].
  • Try some personality tests to give you a sense of how you manage change and respond under stress.
  • Complete the quizzes on CAREERinsite to help you identify your skills, abilities, traits, and preferences. What do the results tell you about your adaptability?
  • Alis offers many resources to help you manage change and transitions.
  • Search online for books, podcasts, and videos using keywords like “resilience,” “grit,” and “growth mindset.”

Explore the Skills for Success model

Although particular skills may be more important in some jobs than others, all 9 skills in the Skills for Success model are needed for most occupations. And these skills are not just about work—they come into play throughout our lives, forming a foundation for other technical and life skills, knowledge, and relationships.

Learn about the other skills for success:

Skills for Success: Adaptability (1:04)

Major changes in society are affecting how you work, live, and learn. Changes in society mean that you have to change too. Strong adaptability skills help you deal with change effectively. They help you learn the new skills and behaviours you need. They help you stay focused on your responsibilities and goals. They help you stay positive and not give up when things get tough. And they help you manage the stress that can come from changes in your workplace, your community, and your life at home.

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