WorkWise: Getting ahead if you’re a skilled worker
What do carpenters, cosmetologists, emergency medical technicians, computer-peripheral equipment operators, architectural drafters and television and radio repairers have in common? They're all skilled workers.
As a skilled worker, you can increase your chances of continuing to work where you are now, or finding new work where you'd like to be, if you learn to seek out the wealth of information sources available to you. If you don't keep up with the information explosion, you risk:
-- Obsolescence, with outdated skills that make you a less attractive hire or retained worker.
-- Inflexibility and inability to adjust to change.
-- Employment immobility.
Making yourself seem antiquated can cost you the work of a lifetime.
Capitalize on information channeled around you every day. Local and national news gives you insight into change and the way people cope. Watching what others are doing to shift gears on the job may spark an idea you can use at work. Immerse yourself in others' challenges and solutions to encourage the creative process to materialize with a solution for you.
If you don't subscribe to the daily newspaper, borrow a friend's copy or go to the library. Scour the paper for articles about people at work. Read the business section; check lifestyle; and hunt in the first section for headlines about employment. You may be inspired to start a business for additional income; you may learn about a cost-cutting practice that you could incorporate into your work; or you may find ideas about intriguing new types of work.
Read bulletin boards where workers gather for scoop you might otherwise miss. Ask these people questions, such as "Have you found any new ways to increase efficiency?" or "What training have you received lately?" Their relatively unfiltered information may uncover a new educational opportunity.
Use your library for even more information from trade magazines, which cover critical issues in the industry. Don't be afraid to ask the librarians for help! They expect you to ask questions. Incorporate what you learn in your work or find a new job that allows that flexibility.
On the job, soak up every piece of useful information you can possibly find. Listen carefully at meetings. Your boss won't be the only person who tells you about things in the company that you otherwise wouldn't know. Pay attention to the little people, too.
Rather than wasting your time feeding the grapevine, find excuses to bump into your boss and get information about changes in the company and, possibly, at the competition. Start by saying that you're interested in keeping current on what's going on in the company so you can respond to changes as they occur, or even anticipate them.
If your boss dislikes your ambition, find someone who isn't threatened. That could be a person in the same department or elsewhere. It could be someone supportive in Human Resources who appreciates your contribution to the company.
Read the job postings in your company, even if you're not planning to change jobs. You'll be able to identify what kinds of people the company seems to be needing, so that if you decide to get more training, you can develop skills with potential pay-back. Scan the classified section of the newspaper at least on Sundays. They will help you stay current.
Anything you read that tells an office worker how to do better on the job can help you, too. Just replace "office" with "shop," "job site," or whatever fits. Then sponge up all you can about raises, office politics, performance reviews and discrimination. Don't worry about memorizing everything you read. Become familiar with the key issues so that when they come up on the job. You'll know what people are talking about and have a response based on knowledge of the issues.
Make yourself more employable by opening your mind to the information that's floating freely around you. It comes from broadcast and print media, notices at work and the library, and -- don't forget -- people you see every day. Ask questions. Most people love to talk, because answering makes them feel important. You don't have to agree or disagree with what they say. Just file their comments away in the back of your head. You can't predict when you'll be able to put some of their observations to good use.
Dr. Mildred Culp, an award-winning journalist, also writes two syndicated columns -- WorkWise Interactive, on youth employment, and the classic WorkWise, on emerging workplace trends. Contact her at 708-672-1300 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright 2007 Passage Media.