With my recent activities related to hiring a few new employees, I’ve been pondering what it takes to keep up with the world these days, what it takes to keep relevant and employable. In the process, I interviewed young folks and older folks and had some interesting conversations with a few people. I was left pondering the question of how to stay relevant and employable in this new age.
Back in the 1950’s, 60’s and such, many people started with one company and ended their careers with that same, or a very similar, company. The best employees would gradually rise within the ranks and end up as managers. Those without management acumen could still have a decent career as skilled labor.
The key to keeping employed and on your track back then was recurrent training. For management folks, that might be seminars and the occasional college class. Maybe even night school for an MBA. For the laborer, it might have been something as simple as learning how to drive a new model of forklift, or putting down the old arc welder for a new model heli-arc welder. Keeping relevant and employable was largely about recurrent training.
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In today’s world, that recurrent training is still important, but there is so much more to it now. Yes, technology is rapidly advancing. The tools we need to use are changing rapidly, whether you’re an engineer or a marketer or a sales person. Still though, you can keep up with those new tools via training classes, seminars and college classes. If it were only that, things wouldn’t be all that much more difficult then they ever were for the elders of the workforce.
The big challenge is that the social fabric of the world around us is rapidly changing along with the technology and keeping up with that social change is as important as keeping up with the new technologies, possibly even more important. Likely the last time the social fabric changed this much this rapidly was back with the adoption of the automobile. When the travel paradigm changed from two miles per hour to 50 – 60 miles per hour, the social fabric of society really changed. At the same time, the telephone was solidifying its place in the world as well.
Work, food, school, recreation, family, communications – all of those worlds changed radically. The time scale of all of those things changed as well. You no longer had to work within a mile or two of where you lived. Your social network was no longer limited to walking distance. Long distance communication was now measured in minutes rather than in days or weeks.
That same level of societal change is happening right now. Perhaps even to a greater extent. Computers, the Internet and robotics are all forces in motion right now. Back when the telephone came along, friends could communicate instantly rather then having to wait for postal letters to mosey along or rather than having to physically travel and meet. Now, with the Internet’s social interactive tools, not only can a pair of friends communicate instantly, large groups of friends can communicate simultaneously. Even further, the communication can be on every individual’s time schedule. The telephone was a monumental step up in communications from needing to travel or send a letter through the post office. But, to talk on the telephone requires synchronizing two people’s schedules. Both had to be there at the same time. And, for the most part, it was a one to one conversation.
With Facebook and similar Internet-based tools, that time synchronizing requirement is gone, as is the one to one limitation. People can engage in conversations with one or many, near or far, without needing to even know if the other person or people are available. People can even have one-way conversations, broadcast out to cyberspace to be received, by none, one or many. The need to travel, the need to schedule, the need to pick up a phone, the need to limit conversations to one on one are all nearing an end.
This changes things. It changes our limits and boundaries. It changes our opportunities and life-requirements. The world looks smaller, but it is in fact, much, much larger. It’s much closer together, but it is so much larger then ever before. I won’t comment on whether it is better or not. Like nuclear power, much of these changes can be directed toward either good or evil. I think that’s up to each individual to decide, but better or worse, it is very different.
Interestingly, in the not too distant future, our ability to live with limited transportation may return to the pre-automobile conditions. With all of this extra communications, robotics and remote access to everything, society may be able to return to a primarily rural existence. If you can work and socialize from a remote farmstead in the middle of Montana and your friends are spread out across the planet, what advantage is there to being in or close to a city?
To keep relevant, us older folks need to find our place in this new societal reality. We can’t just mimic the younger generation. They may adopt to the new technology faster, but they also adopt to it differently then we need to. Back in 1950, an aging manager would not have looked to the 20-something new-hires to learn how to stay valuable and employed. That manager needed to work with the young, but still keep to age and corporate-level appropriate behaviors.
We need to work with young folks as best we can, but do so, and use all of these new tools, in an age and corporate-level appropriate manner. We also need to keep our past-era wisdom but translate it to this new reality. We need to use the tools in ways that make sense given who and what we are. We need to not fear, but learn about and understand all of these new tools. We need find our own way and use what is appropriate, not just mimic the younger generation.
Posting party photos or friending 350 mostly random people on Facebook will not help a 40 or 50-something seem younger and more employable. It will more likely have the opposite effect. What will help is to understand Facebook, how it works with the younger set as well as how it works with the older set and its relevance to a corporate environment. What will help is to learn about new tools and embrace the ones that have a place in the corporate environment and understand how to properly deploy such tools in a corporate environment.
What will also help is to remember all of the old-school discipline and rules and understand which ones are still beneficial and which ones no longer apply. Younger folks applying for jobs we need may think faster, talk faster and speak the new-tech jargon, but they cannot have the same wisdom and seasoning that we do. What we need to do is ensure that prospective employers or business partners do not get the chance to assume that since we’re old, we don’t get it.
We need to combine knowledge of the new societal order with good solid business practices – demonstrate that we can bring to the table the best from both the old reality and the new reality; that our wisdom will cut through the hype and find the real value.