By Dr. Robert Gordon
Program Director, Reverse Logistics Management at American Public University
Conventional wisdom holds that the only way to future-proof your career is to earn an advanced degree. This is still an important strategy, but should be part of a greater strategy.
To begin, make the decision to follow a path of lifelong learning to keep your skills marketable and current. Then follow a four-step process to ensure long-term success: mastery review, assessing skills, keeping current, and evaluating opportunities (MAKE).
Review and develop an inventory of your skills and abilities. Do not limit yourself to work-related skills, because what you are good at personally today might become part of your career tomorrow.
Many entrepreneurs are able to harness their people skills more than their formal training to be successful. Maintaining diverse skills is critical to long-term success. If you have narrowly-focused skills and those skills lose demand in the market, it becomes difficult to find long-term employment.
After writing down the skills you have, assess what you would like to develop. Think about what you would like to do and evaluate what you need to achieve that new position or role. List any missing skills that are keeping you from your goal.
Build a plan and timeline to achieve any missing skills. If your dream job requires a Masters of Business Administration, then you need to make a plan to achieve that goal. If you want to be your own boss one day, but you lack the skills, perhaps one should earn a degree in Entrepreneurship before starting your own company.
Regardless of how you build these skills, set a deadline and make sure that people know about your goals. There is nothing like a little peer pressure to motivate you.
Review your skill lists and consider how you will retain mastery in the future. Even skills that stay fundamentally the same may change over the course of a career. While the basics of accounting debits and credits remain the same, few organizations use a paper ledger book today as most organizations have automated accounting. If you are expert in Excel, consider taking classes that allow you to learn even more about that tool and other spreadsheet tools than what is necessary for your position today.
Having a diversity of skills keeps you marketable for many different industries. Develop a plan to remain up to date and work on achieving the plan.
Keeping current is one of the more challenging elements of the MAKE model. It is easy to focus on the skills needed in your current job and not keep track of the larger industry.
Research a new job today, even when you do not need a new job. Do a quick job search on Indeed.com or Monster.com and find out what skills employers are looking for. Be active with social networking sites to monitor developments in your areas of interest.
Use the keywords of the skills you have to see what kinds of jobs come up. Examine related job opportunities to determine if you have the minimum requirements necessary. If not, add elements to your list of desired skills.
If you come upon a new role that you are passionate about, consider making that role a goal for the future. Focus your development on becoming an ideal candidate.
The educational environment is an excellent place to try out different options. It is a place for people to learn more and research their passions. While I was recently taking some graduate courses, I found that I could choose some different industries to study. This gave me a great opportunity to learn more about some industries that I was interested in but knew little about.
Be open to opportunities. Look at current news and the needs of organizations. Look at what skills organizations are seeking. Consider that in a future role you may be working alone or in a small team and so you need to be ready to handle every role necessary.
Take charge of your career destiny. Remain current and have a plan to approach tomorrow. Creative action comes from being prepared for the uncertain future.
Working towards improvement can mean the difference in the changing world of work. There is a big difference between being great today and being great tomorrow, so work hard today to build a better career tomorrow.
About the Author: Dr. Robert Lee Gordon is the program director for the Reverse Logistics Management department at American Public University. Dr. Gordon has more than 25 years of professional experience in supply chain management and human resources. Dr. Gordon earned his Doctorate of Management and Organizational Leadership and his Masters of Business Administration from the University of Phoenix as well earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in History from UCLA.