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Staying Fit for the Race in the Evolving Job Market

Staying Fit for the Race in the Evolving Job Market

Global talent shortages are already making it difficult for employers to fill certain positions, but that does not mean employees can sit back and take their jobs for granted. More than ever, it's important for you to stay fit for the race by adding to and refreshing your skills so you can compete for jobs and stay in active, gainful employment.

Picture this: You're an IT manager specializing in Oracle enterprise applications. You're good at your job, highly skilled and have never been short of job offers. Now imagine that your company decided to move to an open-source platform for its ERP software - and you have no formal training in open-source technologies. Suddenly, you're no longer a hot property. It's a sobering thought, isn't it?

This is the reality of today's workplace. The accelerating pace of technological and entrepreneurial change has caused many "hot" jobs to turn "cold" as quickly as a product's lifecycle changes. Moreover, employers are introducing more contingent talent - temporary, contract, consultant and outsourced - to accommodate variability in demand, rather than maintaining a large permanent workforce.

So, with organizations becoming leaner than ever before and employers expecting and gaining more from a slimmed-down workforce, the onus is on employees to find ways to make themselves as desirable, indispensable and flexible as possible to employers. That requires employees to actively manage their careers to a degree that was not necessary a few decades ago, when people could still rely on a "job for life."

The good news is that taking control of your career isn't as difficult as it sounds if you follow a few simple rules and stays proactive and motivated. First, make it a priority to seize every available opportunity offered to you fortraining, "up-skilling" or "re-skilling." Training in today's world of work does not necessarily involve lengthy time spent off-site; it may be available at night, online, on weekends or over your lunch hour. Training can often be modular in nature, so you can learn in bite-sized chunks, making it easier to fit around other commitments and less straining financially.

Choosing courses that complement and extend existing knowledge is the best approach. After all, lawyers need to continuously refresh their knowledge to stay current with changes in legislation; architects need to attend courses to keep up to speed with new building materials; and call center workers need to take customer service courses to improve customer interaction and sales. The same should be true for every job category.

Finally, it's a good idea to stand back periodically and look objectively at your role. Are your skills up to date? Are there any technological or other risks to your job security? If so, are there other career paths you could follow? And how can you move into a new role?

One way of considering which alternative to pursue is to identify the jobs that are most in demand in your organization and beyond. As talent shortages worsen, employers will increasingly encourage cross-training and promote labor flexibility. This means that they are likely to respond well to employees who show a willingness to adapt, take on new challenges and fill gaps in the organization's workforce. HR professionals can help with career planning and counseling to get you ready for new career challenges.

Employees who are nearing retirement may consider extending their "work lives." Employers should be able to offer more flexible roles for older workers to entice them to stay, and encourage them to train new generations in the skills they have acquired during their career.

Here are 10 tips for taking control of your career and "staying fit" for the race:

  • Take responsibility for your own learning

  • Optimize online training resources

  • Become a visible high performer early in your career

  • Find ways to stretch yourself in new roles within your organization

  • Seek opportunities to work overseas to learn a new language and other skills

  • Ask to participate in global projects to gain an international business perspective

  • Share knowledge and skills through online networks with other specialists

  • Find a mentor who can give you career guidance and support

  • Use your performance appraisal to identify and outline steps to reach your career goals

  • If your employer won't invest in your learning and development, consider finding one who will