“Only those who constantly retool themselves stand a chance of staying employed in the years ahead.” (Tom Peters)
There is a large body of writing about the business world that deals with the notion that a person, or a company must always be in a state of change in order to survive. The skills and lessons I have learned up until now, will not move me forward. To move forward, and to continue to be relevant in the work place, I must be constantly learning, developing and evolving. With that said, there are certain core skills that transcend change, and become essential to my professional took kit.
When I graduated from College, my first job was doing phone support for a computer company. In that position I spent hours on the phone every day answering questions about how our brand of PC worked. Some of the questions were quite daunting, others were quite simple. I have seen many humorous collections of odd help desk questions. I can tell you, I heard most of them.
To be successful in that job I certainly had to know the technical specifications and capabilities of our product. That knowledge and skill is lost to the ages because dozens of generations of hardware and software have come and gone. If I only knew how to work on a Victor computer, I would quickly have been unemployed. But, the key skills of listening to customers, diagnosing problems from afar, and making people happy about the experience have become core for me. While I no longer work on a help desk, my job frequently involves being able to solve problems when I cannot always see what is going on. Having an ability to walk someone through a solution has been a key part of every job I have had since those early days.
In the middle of my career, I was trained to be a facilitator of a process called RAPID. It was a process improvement methodology that involved gathering small teams of people together for a time to work through a troubled process to find innovative solutions. In that job I worked with over 75 teams to develop solutions to problems. The solutions we developed saved my company millions of dollars. In that role, had I only learned the tool called RAPID, my job would have become passé quickly. I would have soon been relegated to a niche job, or even found myself out of work. But, the skills of facilitation, training and process analysis have become building blocks for all positions I have had since. I was able to become a professional trainer, in part, because of the skills I learned while training people in Facilitation and the RAPID methodology.
In my more recent past I have had to become skilled in Financial Management. To be successful in my current job I must be able to identify and solve some rather complex financial issues. I have had to learn about the financial processes of my company, and build relationships with key stakeholders. While I still find this to be quite stressful, I can look back and see that my skill level has grown immensely in the last 4 years. I will never be a financial whiz kid, but I will forever have a greater knowledge of how things get done.
My job today looks nothing like my original job in many ways. And yet, in some ways it looks remarkably like those early days. I still know how to diagnose problems, build relationships and work without seeing things firsthand. Along the way I have added in many other skills. Some of the added skills were for temporary technologies, and others were core to what I was, and what I became.
After nearly 30 years working since my college graduation, I am a living testament to the idea that to stay employed, and to get ahead, I must constantly retool my skill set. I am in the autumn of my career these days, I can see the light at the end of the 50 hour week tunnel. But, I am still a long way off from learning skills I need to be successful at work. I think I will be retooling right up until the day I finally leave and ride off into my retirement sunset.