How To Avoid Obsolescence?

Whether you’re a Web designer, investment analyst, or civil engineer, you can’t stand professionally still. It’s not enough to be good now; you have to stay good. That means keeping up to date with new trends and developments in your field of expertise, and your industry.

The biggest career challenge facing professionals of all disciplines and ages is the accelerating obsolescence of knowledge and skill. Think career fitness before you get too far out of shape with the future.

The biggest career challenge facing professionals of all disciplines and ages is the accelerating obsolescence of knowledge and skill.

Staying fit, or up to date, is getting tougher. Two years ago,
I was invited to speak on career development to the human resource directors network of the Industrial Research Institute, an association of technology based companies like Hewlett-Packard, Exxon, and Eli Lilly. I asked that group, “What’s the ‘half-life’ of the technology your company depends on?”

The answers they gave were shocking. Within five to seven years, these companies expect the knowledge and skills of their technical professionals to be considerably out of date.

For professionals, particularly those in hi-tech venues, the impact of this trend is huge.
It means that, over the course of your career, you’ll probably need to “unlearn” and “relearn” the skills and knowledge you now depend on three or four times. How ready are you? For example, if you’re a scientist in the life sciences arena, how up to date are you in genomics? If you’re an industrial chemist, how savvy are you in math intensive, computer-based, molecular modeling.
Nor is it just the hi-tech world that’s changing. New knowledge is streaming out of the university and workplace at a faster and faster clip, making its impact felt in professionals ranging from archaeology to graphic design.

Here are a few tips for staying up to speed:

Buy career insurance through continuing education.
Some professions have continuing educational requirements–such as accounting, medicine, and law–but they’re too few. Make yourself think that way. Even if you’re a relatively new grad, make yourself take a course a semester. Go to at least one or two conferences.

Invest in networking on the future of your profession.
Yogi Berra wisely pronounced, “You can observe a lot just by watching.” Sage advice when it comes to career fitness.
Watch what’s happening in your industry, the companies and sectors that have the most merger activity, the technologies that are morphing.
Start a chat room, or be part of one. Join a professional association, if only to stay in touch with what colleagues are thinking. Attend industry events. Find the commentators who have a handle on emerging trends and dynamics, and read what they write.
Bob Dylan said it best: “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”

Talk to people inside your company.
Some of the best information about new developments in your profession will probably come from the people inside your organization. Identify some of the best internal pundits and invite them to lunch. Ask for time from internal or external customers. Talk to colleagues who’ve recently joined the organization from outside. If your company posts jobs, periodically look at the employment ads for an idea of how job requirements are changing.

Apply the lessons of other professions to your own.
Assume that the mega-trends out there will have an impact on your profession, and plan accordingly. For example, computing software will continue to simplify and automate a variety of analytic tasks. If it hasn’t yet hit your profession, it will. What specifically might that mean for you? To get started, take a piece of paper and divide it into three columns.

Column one: What are the mega-trends that are influencing my profession?
Column two: What does that mean for people in my profession, the opportunities and threats they imply?
Column three: What should I do to best position myself to take advantage of these trends?

When you think about it, career obsolescence is a choice we make, not a certain fate. To be sure, the knowledge and skills expected of professionals in all fields is changing.
But, by anticipating what those changes are, and taking action, you can shift the balance from surviving to thriving.

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