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Sizing Up the Field

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It’s tough to generalize about which skills job seekers ought to have to compete for jobs in the next century because so much depends on one’s industry, profession and company.

What’s certain, experts say, is that smart workers will thoroughly educate themselves about their field, not just their own job.

“Workers need to identify with a trade or a profession. The job is the ticket in the door, but it could disappear at any time,” said Caela Farren, business consultant and author of “Who’s Running Your Career?” (Bard Press, to be released in October). “I always say, ‘If you take a job, you’ll work for a day; if you craft a profession, you’ll work for a lifetime.’ ”

That’s not to say job seekers should ignore broader skills and personality attributes that employers will look for in recruits in 2000 and beyond. Take this quiz to see if you’re prepared to compete in the evolving job market.

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If you agree with the following statements, mark true; if you disagree, mark false:

1. Going to work each day and observing what’s going on around me is the best way to understand my industry.

2. I don’t plan to become a manager who must pay attention to the bottom line, so I don’t have to learn how to read a balance sheet.

3. A successful manager proceeds with a new project or a new idea without getting the bosses’ OK.

4. I can capitalize on the shortage of technology workers by developing a general range of computer skills that will help me obtain a high salary and a permanent job.

5. I’m an independent, caring person who enjoys making decisions on my own. I think these are crucial attributes to compete in the fast-growing health-care industry.

6. I’m not adequately trained for the job I want to do, but since we’re working in a knowledge-based economy, I’m sure my next employer will take care of the training I need.

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7. Paper resumes are being supplanted by online questionnaires.

8. Cover letters and resumes will become extinct if all employers adopt online job application forms.

9. If I work hard and my projects bring results, I don’t need to toot my own horn about what I’m contributing to the organization.

10. Employers care little about job applicants’ high school grade-point averages.

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ANSWERS:

1. False. Workers must talk with colleagues in their industries who have different responsibilities and learn how to diversify their skills. Those who want to get ahead should also read trade journals pertaining to their profession to determine what changes will occur in their field and how they can best prepare to meet these challenges, Farren said.

2. False. Managers increasingly expect employees to understand their company’s finances, what products it makes and who its customers and competitors are.

“What employers are looking for is what you bring to the table to help them compete. No longer are you a cog in the wheel,” said Lynn Vavra, a Los Angeles-based employee development specialist who counts TRW and the IRS among her clients.

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3. True. Willingness to take initiative is paramount for success.

“I find the less successful managers say, ‘If I haven’t explicitly been told yes, I can’t do it,’ ” said Oren Harari, professor of management at the University of San Francisco and author of “Leapfrogging the Competition” (American Century Press, 1997). “The more successful managers say, ‘If I haven’t been explicitly told no, I can do it.’ ”

4. False. General computer knowledge alone won’t do it. Those who recruit technology workers say specialists who concentrate on local area networks, programming, Web page design and Internet service provision will continue to be in demand in the next several years.

Specialists can command twice the salary of full-time employees if they work as independent contractors, said Joseph Strong, North American zone manager for Select Appointment Holdings, the nation’s ninth-largest provider of IT contractors.

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5. False. Those interested in home health aide or physical therapist jobs--or a whole range of health-care professions expected to be hot in the next five years--must feel comfortable working as a team with other health-care providers to interpret a patient’s condition.

These positions also require endurance, because therapists must stand for long hours, and large helpings of tact and patience, said Lee Powers, director of recruitment services at Advance By Design, a Grand Junction, Colo.-based firm that specializes in placing health-care providers.

6. False. Job seekers can’t rely on companies to help them develop their skills. Many corporations are downsizing their human relations departments and cutting their training budgets.

Whether you’re able to receive training often depends on your position. Three out of four firms pay for either internal or external training for senior managers, professionals and middle managers, according to the American Society for Training and Development’s 1996 “Training Data Book.”

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These numbers decrease, however, when one moves further away from management jobs, with firms providing training to about one of two salespeople and customer service personnel and 42% of production workers.

7. True. Big Six accounting firm Coopers & Lybrand handed out Slinky toys imprinted with the company’s Web address on college campuses this year to encourage students to tell the company about themselves online. Corporations are so overwhelmed with resumes that they will increasingly turn to the Internet for relief, said Brooks Mitchell, president of Laramie, Wyo.-based Aspentree Software.

Mitchell’s firm has developed software that helps firms download information provided by job candidates from their Web pages. The software then assigns numbers to different attributes, allowing employers to compare candidates across categories, Mitchell said.

8. False. Wise use of a resume--on paper or electronically--will remain one of the best methods available to the applicant of tomorrow, said Curtis Plott, president and chief executive of the American Society for Training and Development in Alexandria, Va.

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“People underestimate their real achievements at work and because of this they undervalue their contributions,” Plott said. “The first thing to do is to tie your skills to actual projects or work you have done so it’s apparent what skills you used to accomplish a task.”

The second thing, Plott continued, is to identify the results achieved by using these skills and to point those out as well.

9. False. Some employees mistakenly feel it’s bragging if they call attention to their work and believe they should be recognized on the basis of merit.

“That no longer works,” Vavra said. “The employer won’t [necessarily] notice your performance.”

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Workers may become more comfortable being their own advocates by asking others for help. For example, an employee who hates networking could ask a gregarious co-worker to attend a conference with him to introduce him to others, Vavra suggested.

10. False. The message used to be “High school grades don’t make a difference, so why kill yourself?” said Frank Levy, Daniel Rose professor of urban economics in the department of urban studies and planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and co-author of “Teaching the New Basic Skills” (Free Press, 1996).

This is beginning to change, Levy said. About two months ago, International Business Machines Corp. said high school graduates who left school in the last five years will be required to provide transcripts when applying for any of the company’s manufacturing jobs.

“They have done research to show that grades matter,” Levy said.

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SCORING:

8-10 correct: Wow! You’ve done your research early and are well-prepared to launch your career into the next millennium.

5-7 correct: You’re well on your way to improving your resume to meet the skills demanded by jobs of the future but may need to make a few constructive changes.

1-4 correct: Good thing you found out now, but your skills need an overhaul. You need to craft a strategy that will enable you to compete in your chosen profession in the future. You may also want to get more training and start taking the initiative to further your career.

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Skills Required

More than half the new jobs created between 1984 and 2005 will require some education beyond high school, up from 31% in 1983. Research shows there is a widening gap between the basic skills required for jobs of the future--such as the ability to read mannuals, technical journals and financial reports and to write business letters, journal articles and detailed reports--and those who are qualified to do such work. A look at the job skills gap.

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Skill Level One

Has reading vocabulary of 2,500 words.

Has reading rate of 95 to 125 words per minute.

Can write simple sentences.

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Percentage of 21-25-year-olds entering the labor market between 1985 and 2000 at this skill level: 7%

Percentage of jobs created between 1985 and 2000 requiring this skill level: 2%

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Skill Level Two

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Has reading vocabulary of 5,000 words.

Has reading rate of 190 to 215 words per minute.

Can write compound sentences.

Percentage of 21-25-year-olds entering the labor market between 1985 and 2000 at this skill level: 71%

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Percentage of jobs created between 1985 and 2000 requiring this skill level: 38%

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Skill Level Three

Can read safety rules and equipment instructions.

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Cn write simple reports.

Percentage of 21-25-year-olds entering the labor market between 1985 and 2000 at this skill level: 17%

Percentage of jobs created between 1985 and 2000 requiring this skill level: 21%

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Skill Level Four

Can read journals and mannuals.

Can write business letters and reports.

Percentage of 21-25-year-olds entering the labor market between 1985 and 2000 at this skill level: 3%

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Percentage of jobs created between 1985 and 2000 requiring this skill level: 31%

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Skill Level Five

Can read scientific and technical journals and financial reports.

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Can write journal articles and speeches.

Percentage of 21-25-year-olds entering the labor market between 1985 and 2000 at this skill level: 1.5%

Percentage of jobs created between 1985 and 2000 requiring this skill level: 7%

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Skill Level Six

Has same skills as Level Five but more advanced.

Percentage of 21-25-year-olds entering the labor market between 1985 and 2000 at this skill level: 0.5%

Percentage of jobs created between 1985 and 2000 requiring this skill level: 1%

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Sources: American Society for Training and Development, Hudson Institute, Labor Department


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