Ready or Not…

The February 28th issue of Business Week has two stories up front that paint a stark picture for those who think that everything is wonderful in the economy and the job market. The first, “The Union, Jacked,” describes the situation in Wisconsin and other states that are facing huge budget deficits and their struggles with public employee unions. The second, “A U.S. Recovery Built On Low-Paying Jobs,” points out that many people are settling for what they can get and taking jobs making much less than they were before. Neither of these stories will leave anyone feeling great about the fiscal and employment situations in the United States. So what can we do? 

There are no easy answers, but there are some obvious conclusions. First, even the jobs that everyone thought would be secure forever are not. What could be safer than a government job and union representation? Ask people in Wisconsin, Providence and other areas of the country where union jobs are being vaporized.

Second, employers’ viewpoints have changed. While the internal literature and recruiting materials may say, “Our people are our strongest asset,” their actions say, “Our people are our biggest expense.” As economies become more intertwined and globalism spreads, we must take action to keep ourselves competitive and solvent. Here are a few thoughts.

Challenge yourself to do your best work every day. If we accept the premise that employees are an expense to the company, we must also accept that we must provide more benefit than what we are paid. Just like any other factor of production, if an employee is worth more than the cost, that person is a justifiable expense. It’s a harsh reality, but does recent history make you think otherwise?

Learn something new that can make you more valuable to your current or a future employer. Is there a class you can take? A book you can read? A new social media tool you can master and teach to your team? Get creative and learn something new. Share what you learn.

Diversify. If you have ever read anything about investing, you know that diversification is a core strategy. When one asset is declining, another is likely to be rising. Think about your income the same way. What can you and others in your home do to diversify your income stream? Is everything hinging on one person? What if that person is you and you get laid off? Do you have a skill or interest you can leverage to generate income? We may not be talking about a river of cash today, but most income generating activities take time to develop.

Network and volunteer. By helping others – either in a faith-based organization or a secular setting – you may find a skill that you didn’t know that you have. You will also likely meet people that you don’t know today. How can you give today with no expectation of reward? It’s impossible to predict where this can lead, so why not take a chance and see what happens?

The only thing that is certain is that change will accelerate and you will be affected. Take charge of your career and buckle in for the ride. Yes, it may be scary. Yes, you will likely face some tough times. But if you do something today when it isn’t an emergency, you will have the foundation, reputation and network you need to weather that coming uncertain storm.

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