“What would you like to be 10 years from now?” an HR colleague asked an interviewee the other day. An oft-repeated question, it sought to probe the alignment of the job with the applicant’s aspirations. Pat came the reply: “Relevant”. Needless to say he got the job. When I heard of this interesting exchange, I couldn’t help but admire the smarts of this leader. In his own simple and dramatic way, he drove home a very important point; one that I have personally been incessantly repeating to my colleagues, industry peers and even my own kids.
With the accelerating pace of change at our workplaces, staying relevant is a very real challenge. The field of technology, in particular, is witnessing waves of serious disruption. In this scenario, to believe that our skill set would continue to hold value as it has in the past would be nothing short of delusional.
Think about it: You expect regular updates and upgrades on the apps on your smartphones. What about you? Welcome to a world in ‘Permanent Beta’ where, to quote LinkedIn co-founder and chairman Reid Hoffman, “we are all works in progress,” irrespective of whether one is a recent graduate or a seasoned professional.
Rapid skill enhancement is no longer a choice but a necessity. It is a real possibility that the dream job you’re pursuing may not even exist in the future. It’s happened in the past too. The top 10 in-demand jobs in 2010 did not exist in 2004. In the field of technology, some of the hottest jobs today – mobile app designers, data scientists, cloud computing professionals or even social media managers – did not exist in 2000. In fact, change is so rapid that 65% of today’s school children in the US are expected to end up at jobs that haven’t even been invented yet! What the future holds may not be clear, but we can follow the compass. In IT, for instance, it points to areas such as artificial intelligence and robotics, connecting machines to the Internet or User experience design.
The writing is on the wall and the need to learn is increasingly evident. In Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends survey this year, 85 percent of respondents cited learning as “important” or “very important”—an increase of 21 percent over last year. Yet, in a troubling development, more companies than ever report they are unprepared to meet this challenge. The capability gap between the importance of the issue and the ability to respond grew in magnitude by an enormous 211 percent (from -9 to -28) over the last 12 months.
So should you as a professional be worried about the impending skills gap? Worried no, concerned yes. The race is already on and every minute not spent in making yourself smarter, faster, better is a minute most certainly wasted!
So don’t wait for a master plan to reveal itself to you. Take the first step. Change your attitude. Experiment and innovate. Step out. Step up. Just start walking …. Here are 3 tips that I think may help you on the road.
1. Don’t outsource your career to HR or your Manager - It is possible that your company offers the training you’re looking for. But if it does not, should that really matter? Gone are the days of fast-food servings of training. We are fortunate to have a plethora of technology-enabled learning opportunities giving us the power to reshape ourselves in any mould we choose. We can study The Analytics Edge from MIT, Introduction to Bioethics from Georgetown or even the Fundamentals of Neuroscience from Harvard. The possibilities are endless, with the explosion of new learning offerings in recent years, including MOOCs, digital learning tools, video offerings, and new cloud-based training systems. More than 400 universities now offer free or low-cost courses on easy to use learning platforms.
So when you have the power to put together your own menu of training, would you leave it to your HR manager? You do not outsource other important decisions like the choice of your life partner – would you outsource your career path? I’m not saying your company or HR has no role in this game – they most certainly do and they will be your partners in this journey; but don’t make the mistake of thinking that your self-interest can ever be better served by anyone than you yourself!
2. Expand your circle of conversation – A ‘networking nerd’ may seem like an oxymoron but the fact is that we must enhance our “human capital” with “social capital.” As Harvard Professor Robert D. Putnam states, the core idea of social capital is very simple: Social networks have value that directly inputs into our careers. That is, while we focus on honing the technical skills that our job roles demand, maintaining an active presence in the right social networks – both online and offline –could add some very specific value such as trust, reciprocity, information, and cooperation.
So, invest time in researching the various social networks relevant to your career. These might be forums, conferences, industry events, exhibitions, or any format you find comfortable and conducive to constructive exchange with industry peers and like-minded professionals. Such proactive participation will not only help you build a holistic net worth, you will also remain top-of-mind in the right groups, pick up valuable insights which could serve you well in your own role and, yes, also make good friends to build a web of resources in your field.
3. Look at the big picture – Stay abreast on the dynamics of your industry at all times. The forces of disruption unleashed in business by technology will impact not just the marketplace but our own jobs as well. Therefore, keeping a sharp eye on the big picture is just as vital as your technical competencies.
Create two dossiers of your understanding of the macro context – one titled ‘here and now’ and the other on ‘what could be’. Keep refreshing the latter with new inputs and research and force yourself to rate your understanding and readiness on this list every quarter. For example if you are a true-blue coder and you are hearing a lot of buzz around design-thinking and APIs; asses yourself on these emerging paradigms and if you find yourself wanting, then immediately seek out trainings and expert help. The idea is simple, you have to (rather you must) stay updated on the latest developments both in your company and outside so that you are in the best position to know if your skills are still relevant to solve the big challenges of your industry. Remember it’s not just about capability; it’s about how that capability stacks up against the priorities of your company and industry. Technology professionals have often been typecast as an intense bunch, sometimes oblivious of the big picture of businesses they operate in. This stereotype will be smashed in the near future and you need to ensure you are not its collateral damage!
These are just some cues to help you design the new you – U 2.0! As I said earlier, you will have to take this journey all by yourself. So learn, experiment, innovate, collaborate and then do it all over again until your own upgrades are as swift as your favorite App’s!
How you will create your own upgrade? I would love to read your thoughts.