3.1   Awareness: change happens!

Economic realities have changed in the past few decades. Lifetime job security no longer exists.

Many if not most workers can expect to change jobs every three to five years and to make major career shifts three to five times in their lifetimes. Workers across the globe are having to reinvent themselves regularly to maintain their livelihoods.

Change happens in response to: New Realities, Trends and Events.

New Realities

The role of education in the pursuit of employment is a new reality. Good paying jobs require more education and a well refined skill set than they did in years past. Many jobs that previously required a high school education now require a two or a four year degree. Indeed, when President Obama gave his first speech to Congress, he said that education and training after high school is no longer desirable. It is necessary. The new reality is that career success requires lifelong learning. You can no longer be successful if you do not remain current in your field and ready to re-train for the emerging jobs that are replacing old fields of employment.

Another new reality is that the normal age for retirement is changing. 72 (or older) is the new 65. With the economy as it has been, many people simply cannot afford to retire when they expected. They need to stick it out for a while or find a new job for their retirement years. Economists had for years predicted that there would be tremendous labor shortages occurring when the baby-boom generation started retiring, and that their retirements would create endless opportunities. For now (in 2009 and beyond), that prediction is on hold.

Part of the reason that retirement is changing is that now, more than ever, you are on your own with your career. There was a time when workers could count on their employers providing security, health care, education and retirement benefits. That is no longer necessarily the case. It used to be the norm that employers would provide defined benefit packages. That meant you knew exactly what you would get and that the employer would keep paying for those benefits, even if the costs went up. Now, most employers offer defined contributions. In other words, they will put a certain amount of money into providing, above and beyond salary, but when costs go up, you're on your own.

With change happening rapidly and relentlessly, the new reality is that you have to be prepared to reinvent yourself on a regular basis. The pace of change is accelerating and it comes in many forms: technological, social, political and economic. You could show up one day at the job you thought was stable and secure, only to find out that you've been laid off. Your job may not exist tomorrow. In fact, your industry may not exist or it may have been shipped off to another country. The new reality is that you will need to re-tool and reinvent yourself more than just once. You have to be ready when change happens, and you need to maintain awareness to know when it's coming.

Trends

Work has become a moving target due to a myriad of factors. In the last two decades we have become all too familiar with terms that dump tens of thousands of workers out into the cold:
  • Globalization
  • Buyouts
  • Downsizing
  • Restructuring
  • Mergers
  • Outsourcing
  • Right sizing
  • Off shoring
  • Disruptive technologies
  • Meltdowns
  • Recession and Depression
All of the above can be described as trends that will impact the labor market for years at a time.

There are other trends that should have a positive effect. The buzzwords here are: recovery plans, stimulus packages and budget priorities.

We will have to wait to see what happens over the long run, but soon after his inauguration, President Obama released a budget plan that set ambitious goals in the areas of health, education and energy.

The outcome of the health care debate will fundamentally alter the employment market for years to come. The ever increasing demand for nursing professionals is not going to stop. Aging baby boomers are going to demand more services. New medical technologies are required, and with each advance, there will be research, development, production, public relations, sales and advertising. The leisure industries will also become a part of this wave of change. People have started traveling to obtain medical services, and recreation is recognized as a significant factor in wellness. The outcome of the healthcare debate will also determine whether manufacturing in America will survive. Right now, when you buy an American car, you are paying more for worker benefits than you are for the steel.

On the education front, new investments will mean more jobs for teachers, more money for research, and more opportunities for workers to upgrade their skills for a 21st Century economy. If education policies advance, their will be more opportunities at home, here in the U.S., for workers in the information and service industries. With a better educated workforce here at home, employers won't be looking to ship high tech jobs overseas.

The new energy frontier is part of another trend that is fast gaining momentum: the “Greening of America.” With the world having finally woken up to the threat of global warming, there will be a wide range of employment opportunities created in response to environmental demands. And they won’t just be in science and technology. It is going to affect service, transportation, manufacturing, information, finance and so on.

Events

Sometimes, the world-of-work will change dramatically in response to immediate events.

When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, the economic impact was felt throughout the country. Building supplies became more expensive in Seattle. Home insurance rates went up in Sacramento. Labor costs went up in South Dakota. Even if there had not been as much devastation, gasoline prices everywhere would still have been impacted by the closing of a few refineries.

When oil prices spiked up more than 100% in 2008, there was tremendous upheaval in many industries. There were good and bad repercussions. People thought harder about their automobile choices and where they will live. They thought more about fuel economy in both decisions. Manufacturers realized that if they manufacture in China, they might lose all of the savings gained from a cheaper labor market by incurring heavy transportation costs to get their goods to market. Cheap oil allowed for inexpensive transport of goods across the globe. But once the cost of shipping a 40-foot container to the US jumped from $3000 earlier in the decade, to $8000 in 2008 things changed. And then in 2009, oil prices dropped back down.

Things happen everyday. Someone introduces a new product. Someone recalls an old one. A pile of coal ash breaks free from a dam and pollutes a river. A study reports that subsidies for corn-based ethanol impact food prices. A computer battery catches on fire. A bank goes belly-up.

It can be good news or it can be bad news. Your task is to maintain awareness and to figure out what might happen next. When things happen, your task is to pay attention and to connect the dots.