April 14, 2022

Better Cheaper Quicker © Cici Mattiuzzi

One of the most painful jobs of a career counselor is to tell a person that their job prospects are going to be very limited if they cannot shift to a cutting edge company or if they do not go back for more education or training.

It is about adapting to change. It is also about anticipating disruption caused by forces beyond your control.

The economy is fickle – when it is flying it seems like good times will last forever. You feel fine… your career is soaring. Then things change – often without warning.

Social, political, economic and technological change have all wreaked havoc on careers and people’s lives throughout history. Technology, pandemics, wars, economic meltdowns, inflation, deflation, mergers and acquisitions come and in their wake are both opportunity and devastation.

Currently we are witnessing the confluence of climate change, a global pandemic, rapid inflation, and a devastating war in Ukraine that are all wreaking havoc. Expect that the impact will be worse than we can currently imagine. Just like the pandemic was longer and deeper than we imagined.

We are now staring down a war thousands of miles away that is like no other… If you think it will not affect you, think again.

Being aware of change and being able to adjust effectively is crucial to your success over time. Being proactive and agile are essential.

There are many things to worry about… If you are worried about being replaced by automation – don’t. Chances are that if you are reading this you are going to be fine. You are safe for now if you were born after 1985 because it is probable that you were born with a computer in your hands. Better, cheaper, quicker.

The digital transition is wiping out jobs but it is also creating jobs. Automation is not going to replace you. Knowledge based jobs are not going away, they are morphing. It is about survival and it is about competition. Every single sector of the economy is constantly changing. The digital revolution has been with us for over two decades. There is barely a field that has not morphed into something entirely different over the past few years.

The pandemic pushed changes much faster than they would have occurred naturally. Industries that were resistant to change have been forced into changing rapidly or be wiped out - discovering all new ways of doing things - better, cheaper, quicker.

If you worked remotely for much of the pandemic you are there… If you know what 3D printing is, if you know what supply chain and block chain are, if you are familiar with AR/VR, Python, and Stata, if you know something about data analytics, or if you know what SaaS, CRM, and B2B are, your career is going to be exceptional. At least for now…

The labor market is rapidly expanding to embrace people who are young, technically savvy, and highly educated. It is not so kind to people who are unskilled, under-educated or aging. People with low skills and/or less education and training are finding it harder if not impossible to find jobs that pay enough to afford necessities, let alone to purchase a home in a decent neighborhood. It is harder and harder to find jobs offering stability and opportunities for growth.

It really doesn’t matter what your field is – you are obsolete if you cannot instantly access, capture, dissect, analyze, and deliver information. Better, cheaper, quicker.

Crises always make things worse. Failing to maintain an awareness of global disruption is what will ultimately catch you. You may be fine now, but if you fail to keep up you will become unemployable.

Technology changes constantly. So does what is happening in the labor market. This is not new. I discovered very quickly when I started my job as a career counselor that I needed more education. Everyone around me had a master’s degree. I went back to school while working full time and got a master’s. It was not required but it was prudent and necessary if I was going to survive the economic ups and downs.

Look around you… what do you see? What is on the front page of the newspaper/newsfeed. What is the crisis? What is the threat to the economy? Who is needed to solve the problem? Who is moving up?

Analyze what you see. How will you be affected?

I frequently advise people to pursue master’s and PhDs in a number of fields where credential inflation is rampant and a higher level of educational attainment is a necessary accessory, an insurance policy – especially if you are hoping to move up. In some areas, graduate degrees are pretty much required at the entry – robotics, economics, physics, counseling, psychology, medicine, law, research … to name a few.

When hiring slows, the people with more education, a professional license, experience, continuously updated skills, and cutting edge expertise will manage to hang on. Those without may be left behind. Failing to stay current, failing to understand the impact of social, political or technical change, or failing to enhance your credentials in your field or in your industry is like driving without insurance. You are left vulnerable.

During the 90s recession mechanical engineers - unable to get jobs in the manufacturing sector that was offshoring jobs at a breakneck pace - shifted to environmental science master’s degrees. The ozone layer depletion was in the news and the only jobs out there were in the emerging fields addressing the environmental crisis.

It happens at the top, in the middle, and at the bottom of the food chain and it happens in the beginning, middle and late career. No one is immune to global crises or technological change…

Being static is not an option. Period. Burrowing in and ignoring change is catastrophic for your career. Applying for new jobs with old knowledge and old skills results in repeated rejection.

An economics student 8 months away from graduating is just discovering that all of the jobs he is interested in require at least a Master's degree if not a PhD. Surveying positions posted on Google and Indeed and visiting preferred employer websites was key to developing an understanding of job requirements. No one told him as he trudged along in his studies…

A high-level banker who has tons of experience but little knowledge of crypto or experience in non-traditional instruments of payment was locked out of exponentially higher paying opportunities with fintechs.

A mechanical engineer with a toe hold entry level position in a robotics company realizes he can go only so far as he looks around and realizes he cannot get noticed by the cutting edge robotics development company he really wants to build his career with … unless he gets a master’s or PhD.

A software engineer with 15 years of experience working in a company running on stale software watched his opportunities disappear. The all-consuming position he held was sucking the life out of him and he has had little time to learn new technologies while required to constantly respond to crises. He ended up with a career stopping deficiency. At 40 he should not be past his prime…

Staying current with constantly changing technologies is the bridge to your next opportunity.

A journey level cement finisher - an incredibly hard worker and whip smart - started work at 17 and never had an opportunity to go to school beyond the 11th grade. He got his GED over time. At 50+ his body is giving out. Lifting 50+ pounds and doing extremely hard labor for decades has taken a toll. He is perfect for a foreman job because he knows everything about running a cement crew but he doesn’t know MS Project, Excel or Word. He barely uses email. The world has evolved… Better, cheaper, quicker.

The world is under extreme pressure - changing rapidly in ways hard to predict. Highly skilled and highly educated workers who are paying constant attention to changes in the global economy are going to be in the best position going forward. The crystal ball is staying informed. Information is power...

Your ability to draw inferences from information is your power. What will keep you sharp? What will make you able to deliver solutions and information today, tomorrow, and in 10 to 15 years? Industry is constantly adjusting to change driven demand and updating, always expecting Better Cheaper Quicker.

What are you doing to insure your future? What are you doing to invest in yourself? Are you doing enough?

Get on it!

Cici Mattiuzzi is the Author of ‘The Serious Job Seeker’ and the founding director (emeritus) of the Career Services Office for the College of Engineering and Computer Science at CSU Sacramento.