One of the things I find so interesting living in this technological age is the speed at which our lives change and transform based on the technology we use every day. I remember getting my iPhone 3G last year and thinking it was the most amazing thing, but a little over a year later it’s so outdated that some apps don’t even run on it. What the heck. But even more astounding is the fact that not just our social activities and hobbies are affected by this technological revolution, so are our professions. For example, did you know that the top 10 jobs in demand in 2010 didn’t even exist in 2004*? Social Media Strategists, Bloggers, Video Journalists◊, nobody had even heard of any of these professions a few years ago, but it’s arguable that some bloggers now have more influence than celebrities.
Here’s something else to chew on: the rate of information discovery right now is so high that a student taking a 4-year technical degree will find that half of the material they learned in their first year of study will be outdated by their third year*. I know, right? What do we do? We can’t just stop learning, that’s never going to be an option, but what we can do is this: we can learn to learn. And what’s more, we can learn to adapt. Easy as pie, right?
In our parents’ day, if you worked hard and became good at something, say being a typist, then you could easily find yourself in that role for a good number of years. But the way the world works now does not favour your hard skills like typing or drafting or sewing by hand. It instead favours your ability to learn these skills, and learn them quickly, so that you can make use of them now, and learn something else later when they become outdated.
Let’s take a step back for a minute. I wrote a few weeks ago about composing a great cover letter using persuasive and targeted writing. The purpose of writing this way is to demonstrate how well you’ll fit an employer’s needs, the ones they state in the job description. But their needs go beyond those stated in that little blurb, and extend into the root of any business that exists today: staying afloat in a sea of innovation and discovery. Of course that means they need smart people like you to run the business now, but what about in 10 years when there are more new jobs and tasks that don’t currently exist? Why would they keep you on board with your MS Word skills when they could hire someone straight out of the grad class of 2020? Someone who’s grown up in this new decade, and is well-versed in tomorrow’s skill set? I’ll tell you why. They’ll keep you around because you’ve not only learned many useful skills over the years, but you’ve figured out how parts of them might be useful to your future tasks and endeavours. Essentially, you understand the transferability of your skill set.
Transferable skills isn’t just a buzz word you hear thrown around by career advisors. It’s a real thing, and a real useful thing if you ask me. It’s how I managed to get work at a nuclear power plant, and then was able to move into cancer research. It’s how your role as captain of the softball team helped you land that job at the HR firm. No, having a 55mph fastball isn’t the top credential required to manage the payroll processing, it’s the responsibility you held and the manner in which you carried out your tasks.
The world we live in now is one where we can buy something today and find that it’s archaic a year later. Today it might be the iPhone 3G, but tomorrow it could be Microsoft Word. But just because the lifeblood of your current profession (oh, how I rely on MS Office) may be gone with the dinosaurs, doesn’t mean your usefulness is too. Remember how fast you learned to use it? How quickly you learned that new programming language? What about how your inquisitive nature led your team to finding a better way to compile reports and perform analyses? When it comes time to say goodbye to the program you’ve spent 5 years learning the ins and outs of, don’t fret. You’re smart, you’re capable, and you’ll do it again. When you’re moving to a new job and they want a programmer with Java experience, and all you’ve got is Visual Studio and C++, who cares? Tell them how quickly you picked up the first two, and confidently state that the third will be the same. Because that is what the job market today is about.