CAREERS : SHIFTING GEARS : The Shifting World of Work : Experts Say Flexibility, Cutting-Edge Skills Are the Best Defense Against ‘Work-Quake’


For those who survived the 6.6-magnitude temblor that rocked Los Angeles last month, author Richard Nelson Bolles has another term sure to illicit shudders from job-seekers: “work-quake.”

What? That’s right. Just as the plates beneath the earth’s surface periodically realign themselves, the underpinnings of our career landscapes are profoundly and unalterably shifting as well. Most “downsized” jobs aren’t coming back. Many lost employee benefits aren’t returning. And many skills that were in demand for the last 30 years are no longer needed.

But, as scary as all that sounds, experts advise us not to panic. Instead, they urge workers to continually learn new skills, to remain flexible and to move toward jobs in growing industries rather than get trapped in a business heading toward extinction.


Following are the views of six experts on what these shifts mean and how we can best avoid being trapped by them.


Edward Lazear

Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution

Professor of Economics and Human Resources, Stanford University Graduate School of Business

The most important trend in the coming years is the globalization of trade, Lazear says.

With growing competition from abroad, American employers will place a premium on highly educated workers with strong information processing and analytical skills. At the same time, manufacturing jobs will radically change as production and assembly work continues to move offshore.

Rather than simply making huge quantities of widgets, blue-collar workers will increasingly be asked to solve production problems, such as creating optimal inventory controls. To do this, blue-collar workers will increasingly be forced to use information technology and to expand their experience to include organization and marketing skills.

In the end, Lazear predicted, “production workers will be wearing white shirts and ties.”


Al Osborne

Professor of Business Economics, UCLA’s Anderson Graduate School of Management

Director, UCLA Entrepreneurial Studies Center

“The most important ability that anyone can have is the ability to think,” said Osborne.

Sure, it sounds simple, even too simple. But Osborne argues too many people are held back by outdated notions of how their lives should be ordered and the ways information should be processed.

Osborne says new social and economic orders are being forged as the result of advances in communications and information processing that will encourage non-traditional forms of working, such as telecommuting.


Even seemingly conventional jobs will change, Osborne says. Nursing will continue to be an important profession but, instead of working in hospitals, nurses will be involved more in home health care. And they will need to stay abreast of advancements in technology that are transforming the way medical care is delivered.

Other institutions and their jobs are changing, too.

“Be willing to do different jobs; work in a team,” Osborne advised. “Think in ways that are different.”


Richard Nelson Bolles

Author, “What Color is Your Parachute?”

Forget about trying to figure out what the hot industries are and where most jobs will be created, Bolles advises. Better to decide what your skills are and where your interests lie, and then determine which careers fit.

Want to be a teacher, but can’t find traditional teaching jobs? Try corporate education programs. “Broaden your net a little bit, look in non-traditional places,” Bolles said.

Even if firmly entrenched in a career, continue to talk to others in related fields. There’s no such thing as job security anymore, he says, so always be ready to move quickly.

And if you are among the growing legion of temporary workers, get used to it, Bolles says. Temporary workers receive about 30% less pay and usually have no benefits, but short-term assignments can lead to full-time jobs. However, landing that full-time job will mean working harder, doing better work and showing more enthusiasm than existing full-time workers.


“The most successful careerist of the ‘90s is the person who recognizes the shakiness of the job market and always has alternative ways of going about the job hunt.”


Bill Charland

Senior Fellow, Center for the New West

It’s the dawn of the era of the techno-professional, Charland says, a blurring of the line that once strictly separated blue-collar workers from white-collar professionals.

Employers will be looking more for skills than pedigrees.

Employees demonstrating abilities in many areas, such as design and production engineering, technology management and hands-on production skills, will be most marketable. The key, Charland said, is “combining technical skills with business management.”

Does that mean you have to spend the next 10 years getting an MBA and an electrical engineering degree? Not at all, Charland says. In fact, he believes degrees have been oversold.

“We need to stay close to the skills we feel comfortable with and move out from there.”

Simply put, if you’re a production worker, try to learn more about, say, international business and marketing. If you’re a white-collar type, become conversant with the production process.


Marilyn Moats Kennedy

Publisher, Kennedy’s Career Strategist, monthly newsletter on career planning

Want a fulfilling, lucrative career in this cutthroat job market? Try a little personal initiative and creative thinking, says Kennedy.


That means looking at social and economic trends and finding ways to satisfy consumers’ changing needs.

Because professionals and working women have less free time than they once had, start a house-cleaning service. Recycling is gaining popularity, but think about more than just bottles and cans. What about collectibles from the 1960s?

That advice also applies when you work for someone else, Kennedy says. Sell yourself as a set of skills, a creative-minded individual who can accomplish certain goals. Look ahead and propose new projects and ways to divide your time. Don’t just be a carpenter; be a carpenter who can also do plumbing and electrical work.


Ron Krannich

Author/publisher, Impact Publishing

In the coming decade, Krannich predicts, we’ll continue to see more corporate downsizing and increasing numbers of mid-career people being forced out of jobs. At the same time, we’ll see more contingent and part-time workers.

To cope, Krannich advises workers of any age and at any stage of their careers to learn one new skill a year. Adopt a hobby that could also be a marketable skill. Take advantage of corporate or community college training programs.

Like it or not, Krannich says, technical skills are what people will need most to compete. If you don’t know anything about computers, now is the time to learn.


Krannich also counsels workers to be ready to move. California is no longer the promised land. States such as Utah, Colorado, Arizona and Florida have the highest demand for new workers.

Finally, retirement will increasingly be a moving target, he notes, with workers who end their careers at one company returning to the work force as consultants, trouble-shooters and part-time workers.