With the beginning of a new year upon us, there is no shortage of predictions about the fate of the world and the economy around us. Some will come to pass, others will not. But there are two things that can be predicted certainty: the economy will remain rocky, with global competition only getting only fiercer. Plus, the brighter news is that with the rise of the digital economy, there will be more opportunities for unprecedented connectivity as well as access to global resources.
That's why it will pay to keep on top of the forces that are reshaping organizations and the jobs they provide. With this in mind, here are 9 approaches to developing the skills and marketability needed to grow and advance in the year ahead:
1. Think global, act local: For most organizations, competition is coming from companies across the globe. It's important to be aware and knowledgeable of the forces affecting your organization and your profession from all corners; whether it's offshore labor or automation. At the same time, organizations need to be able to do a better job of reaching out to and understanding local markets and preferences.
2. Build your own online "brand:" Visibility and name recognition are powerful for career advancement, and social networking paves the way for this. In fact, your online presence -- through sites such as LinkedIn -- is now becoming more important than a resume. Many employers, in fact, now give more weight to what's online before they even consider what's on a candidate's resume. A strong, professional presence across social media will give you tremendous clout within your current and prospective organizations. Better yet, write articles and blogs advancing new ideas within your profession.
3. Think like an "entrepreneur," not an "employee": Entrepreneurship isn't just about quitting your job and emptying your life savings to launch a startup. It's a way of looking at the world that even the most 9-to-5-ish salaried employee needs to adopt. If you're already gainfully (or painfully) employed, don't wait for management to someday recognize your good work and offer you a promotion -- get out there and look for gaps inside and outside your organization. Fill those gaps, build new lines of business that will grow within the walls of the company. If you are looking for work, don't be a "jobseeker," be an "opportunity seeker" -- be exploring and networking in the market, you may be able to build an ongoing portfolio of projects and steady engagements that add up to more than a simple "job."
4. Design your own job: Along with thinking more like an entrepreneur, you can eventually create a job based on delivering value in new ways to your organization. Branch out and develop a skill base in the things you are good at, and map that to pressing needs within your organization or within your market. It's not enough to be pigeon-holed into a narrow or inflexible job description.
5. Be tech-savvy (without having to be a techie): There's no question that highly technical skills -- such as software engineering -- are in demand right now. But demand is even greater for individuals who understand how technology can be effectively employed to open up new business opportunities. And you don't need coding skills -- just knowledge of the resources needed to advance business technology. With more organizations and individuals turning to cloud computing, there isn't as much a need to understand the underlying technology, but it does pay to understand how to apply these resources.
6. Be data-savvy: Demand for data scientists and data analysts -- who are good with both quantifying numbers and building algorithms -- is skyrocketing. But while they can take massive amounts of data and churn out insights, it takes insightful individuals to understand what are the most valuable nuggets of information. The availability of "Big Data" -- which is pouring in from devices and social networks -- is opening up new sources of valuable insights for decision makers in organizations. But it's going to take some inspired individuals to know how to ask the right questions to make this information valuable.
7. Get active with professional groups and conferences: The best way to exchange ideas, learn new things and expand your network is to become involved in groups relevant to your craft. This can be through user groups for a particular software environment you work with (such as the Oracle applications User Group, who I have worked with on various projects), or professional associations. Better yet: Get your name on a conference event as a speaker or panelist.
8. Take advantage of new educational opportunities: Traditional education costs have gone through the roof, but a disruptive, counter-trend that is emerging is the rise of online education, which is often free. The world's leading universities are now supporting massive open online courses (MOOCs), and many even now offer certificates upon successful completion, which will be gold when you present them to current or future employers (or clients). The online revolution in education is also being stirred by offerings such as Kahn Academy, which provides skills and training in everything from STEM (science, technology, engineering, meth) to the arts. You don't have to wait for your boss to sign off on a training budget to become between acquainted with new skills. Better yet: Get involved in teaching some courses yourself. Many training venues are desperate for individuals with practical skills to share their knowledge.
9. Be positive! Yes, the economy still stinks, and many people still are unemployed and underemployed. But the rise of information technology and the digital economy also is also opening up vast opportunities to work with people and organizations from across the globe. The scale of this opportunity is unprecedented, and we've only just begun to understand where it will take us. This is an opportunity to carve out new and unique opportunities -- while being agile enough to change as change is demanded.
(Photo: US Bureau of Labor Statistics.)