Marie Herman’s five step plan for staying relevant in a changing workplace
We all know of the dramatic impact technology has had upon the workplace and our world in just the last decade or two. It’s not hard to see that our jobs will be changed tremendously in the coming decades. So how can you stay relevant in a world that is changing by the hour? How do you prepare for the future workplace? How do you figure out what skills you need and where to focus your efforts?
Step One: Stay Aware
How can you stay attuned to change as it happens around you?
This is one of the more challenging elements of staying relevant. Sometimes new technology and changes are rolled out around us so gradually that we don’t realize how extensive their reach becomes. Imagine your life now without Amazon overnight deliveries (soon hourly for many people!), Alexa type devices, apps to order food or get groceries delivered, and so on. Most of these changes came in gradually and it may have taken a while for you to embrace them (and you might not even have done so yet) and then suddenly, bam, you feel like you woke up and the world had changed overnight while you slept and now the new things are everywhere.
Staying aware of what is affecting the marketplace now and what is going to be coming on the horizon means that you can take steps to be prepared before they are implemented. Subscribe to technology blogs, take time to read articles, attend conferences, and just generally keep your eyes and ears open for new features, software, trends, and more.
Watch Job Postings and Job Descriptions
You can stay aware of what’s happening by watching job postings and job descriptions. Seeing how the titles and job responsibilities are evolving can give you an opportunity to identify new skills that you should acquire to stay relevant. If you repeatedly see requests for programs that you don’t recognize because your company isn’t using them (like Trello, Slack, Zapier, G-Suite instead of Microsoft Office, etc.), you may find that if you lost your job, companies might not consider you qualified for many of the postings available. If you are over a certain age, this could be a critical factor in the company bringing you in for an interview.
You don’t necessarily have to learn every new software in-depth nor understand every new process invented, but you should stay familiar enough with them to feel comfortable stating during an interview that you could work with them.
Don’t just look at software. Be sure you are also noting the responsibilities of the various jobs. Companies may be consolidating job functions in the coming years. You may see more varied responsibilities being included in job postings and it may be an excellent idea for you to find a way to add those skills to your repertoire.
Build Your Network
Another way of staying aware is to build your network BEFORE you need it. Getting involved with a local professional association or networking group can help you build friendships and keep you plugged in with changing marketplace conditions, new job postings, and local education opportunities.
Staying aware does not just mean that you keep an eye on your own job. It also means that you are looking at the bigger picture of what is going on and what is coming in your department, your company, your local community and the economy at large (your country’s and the world’s). It means you consciously take the time to see what is happening and what it means to you and your job.
Step Two: Evaluate Constantly
The next step in staying relevant is to evaluate your skillset on a regular basis. This can be done through a SWOT analysis or simply an informal list of what you do well and what you could improve. Lifelong learning and being open to new things will be a hallmark of successful employees in the workplace of the future.
Each time you become aware of something new on the horizon, you need to ask yourself, how will this change how things are done? What is the next logical need associated with this change? What areas of my job will this impact and what areas will it likely not impact?
The Impact of Technology
I recently encountered a retail store chain executive who discussed the technology they are looking at rolling out at their stores. The company is already on a path to transition to 100% self-checkout. They have prototype robots going through their aisles, straightening the merchandise, turning it all to face the same way, AND doing inventory at the same time. They are also testing a self-driving truck for delivery of inventory to the store. Clearly there will be dramatic changes in what types of employees are needed in this company. The executive explained that they are trying to retrain their employees for the new roles that will be coming.
The World Economic Forum estimates that more than half of all tasks in the workplace will be completed by machines rather than humans by 2025. Those jobs (particularly lower education manual labor positions) will be replaced and they are not coming back.
But that doesn’t mean there will be no jobs. The jobs will evolve to new types of responsibilities. You want to ensure you are one of the individuals prepared for these jobs when they are created.
Flight, Fight or Evolution
An example of this is the company choosing to rollout a new database that will streamline many of the current functions being performed in the company. Someone will need to input the data (but perhaps not as many “someones”). Others will need to learn the software in depth. Someone will need to train their coworkers how to use the software. Someone will need to generate reports and perform other advanced functions within that software. Every impact has a corresponding opportunity associated with it, for people that are looking for opportunities.
Because many people react with fear in these scenarios, their first instinct is the classic evolutionary “fight or flight” response. They either fight against the inevitable coming of the machines or they hide their head in the sand hoping it doesn’t impact them. Neither approach is effective for your career.
How much better would it be to recognize the coming challenge and adapt to it instead? Why not ride the wave of technology much as a surfer glides along the waves on a surfboard?
Step Three: Improve Regularly
One of the ways you can enhance your career opportunities is self-development. I believe over time certifications become ever more critical in supporting employability. Third party validation of your credentials can help you to stand out in a crowded marketplace. It’s one of the easiest ways companies can choose who to bring in for an interview versus who to bypass.
The very process of preparing for certifications practically guarantees that you will acquire new knowledge, even if you already know a subject to a decent level of depth. Most of us are self-taught and we haven’t really taken the time to explore the nuances of job functions and software. Instead, we learn what we need to know to do our jobs. The problem with that approach is that we don’t know what we don’t know and therefore, we may not be aware of better ways to do things.
Do Your Research
Naturally one of the decisions you will face is where to focus your efforts to ensure you spend your time wisely. After all, you don’t want to learn an entire new database only to discover it’s being eliminated the following year. Identifying where to spend your time and effort can be a challenge.
Doing your research and applying some critical thinking skills to the process will help tremendously. It is more important to learn concepts than specifics in some areas.
In other words, using that database example, it’s more important that you have a high-level understanding of how databases work. Why do databases separate data into tables instead of doing one huge table? What are relationships in tables and how do you decide which one is the kind you need? What is the purpose of a query? When you understand the higher-level concepts, the specifics of how to do a particular action in a particular database become less important. You can easily adapt to any database software when you understand the overall database philosophies and terminology.
The same goes with any other category of software – spreadsheets, word processing, presentations, etc. Knowing that something CAN be done in a particular software is more important than knowing exactly how it is done. You can always look up the process on the internet, but if you don’t know the function exists, you’ll never think to search for how to do it.
Use Critical Thinking
This all comes down to thinking on a higher level. Critical thinking skills and adaptability to change are repeatedly referenced by companies as sought after skills for the future workforce.
Developing higher cognitive skills will advance your career. For example, becoming a stronger negotiator or improving your persuasiveness or fine tuning your communication abilities or developing your brainstorming skills can help you no matter what your job. People skills such as leadership, customer service, etc. are also worth expanding. These are also skills that will be more challenging for companies to replace with artificial intelligence.
Be proactive in your approach to your job. Your career is ultimately in your hands and is not your company’s responsibility. While we would all love it if our company paid for all of our self-development, you need to be prepared to invest in yourself if needed. While there are many very expensive options available, there are also many affordable options. Do your research and start saving so that you can include a self-development component in your budget every year.
You might also take some time to consider if you should specialize in a particular niche or not. Generalist skills are important to maintain as they will provide a broader base of knowledge and apply to more roles but specializing in a niche (whether a knowledge area such as medical or a function such as website maintenance) can lead to higher earnings.
Step Four: Be Prepared to Pivot
The workplace of the future may require that you rethink your current role and be prepared to transition into doing something different. There are myriad roles that administrative professionals overlap with, including meeting planners, project managers, content managers, accountants, and more.
Picking up some of these responsibilities may make it easier to transition into a new field if it becomes necessary in the future. Spending some time identifying what areas you particularly enjoy may help you to determine alternate career paths that might suit you well.
Having a plan in mind for where you are heading means you can make incremental changes to arrive there, rather than trying to transition into a brand new field from scratch when you lose your job but before you actually have the skills to change what you do.
You may need to release certain responsibilities that are no longer in demand and add new responsibilities that have a greater need.
Perhaps you need to start preparing for a transition to telecommuting or perhaps even opening your own business.
Your job may be safe until you retire, but too many people have counted on that thought, only to discover several years before they are ready to retire that their company has different plans in mind for them. Picking up new skills and talents can go a long way in invigorating our energy and building our self-confidence.
Step Five: Embrace Change and Stay Positive
Being open to the possibilities that life offers means that we can pivot when needed and look forward to what the transition holds for us.
You cannot avoid technology and change. It is coming whether you are ready for it or not, so you might as well adjust your attitude to the most positive assumptions possible. People often discover that what they thought was an earth-shattering change or job loss ended up being just the step they needed to make a change for the better.
Instead, think of changes that you encounter as a chance to start over fresh and brand new. It might just wipe the slate clean for you to completely reinvent yourself. We are often our own greatest obstacle in moving forward with a decision and when that decision actually gets made for us, it can be a relief.
Think Long Term
This is also an opportunity to think longer term. Don’t just look at the next year and what might impact your job. What about the next five years? Ten years? Twenty? What are you working towards?
It’s so easy to become complacent with where you are in life, even if you are unhappy. Sometimes we don’t even grasp how unhappy we are in life until something happens to change our circumstances. Then we discover that we had allowed ourselves to tolerate more and more of what made us unhappy without even realizing it.
There is an old expression that the only difference between a rut and a grave is the depth. Shaking things up and embracing change as it approaches will ensure that you get out of those self-inflicted ruts.
Putting together a plan for yourself and keeping your eyes on your future goals instead of focusing purely on the present will move your career into a much better place than if you just coast along, accepting whatever life throws at you.
Why not make today the start of a beautiful new relationship between you and your future self?