The on-ramp into a better job isn’t what it used to be. Gone are the days when you show up and get trained to do what the boss expects from you. In other words, if you can’t demonstrate that you’re qualified to do the job on the day that you start, you probably won’t be hired in the first place. (“Companies want workers to arrive job ready.”)
In a weak economy, jobs continue to go unfilled because fewer employers are teaching the skills they require in training programs. Of course, when employers limit their hiring to people who are already doing that job, they narrow the pool of potential hires “to almost no one.” You face this kind of constraint whether you’re looking for your first job, want to advance within a company, or to find a job somewhere else. Increasingly, you’re expected to learn the skills required on your own dime in on-line courses, unpaid internships, or community colleges, in short wherever you can find or pay someone to show you the ropes.
As hard as it may sound, an even bigger training hurdle may confront you after you find a job. The challenge is to remain sufficiently engaged in what you’ve been hired to do that you never stop wanting to advance by improving the skills that you’re gaining.
Unfortunately, your co-workers probably won’t be helping you out here. In Gallup’s most recent State of the Workforce Study, 70% of all employees in North America are “disengaged” in their jobs, which it defines as “lacking in motivation” and being “less likely to invest discretionary effort in organizational goals or outcomes.” Working on auto-pilot and waiting passively for training instead of maximizing the opportunity that every job presents, will confine many of those who are in the workforce with you to jobs that barely seem worth doing.
On the other hand, when being engaged in your work (and refusing to become disengaged) is a personal priority, you have a chance to discover the parts of your job that bring you satisfaction as well as value in the marketplace. It’s a foundation (however small) that you can build on to move up to something better.
With this kind of mindset, you also seize whatever opportunities are available to become more proficient in the work areas where your satisfaction and marketability intersect. When no training opportunities are offered, you still go out and find them for yourself. That’s because they are personal investments that are tied to your feeling both productive and valued. It is partly about career advancement, but even more about self-worth. It is actively avoiding the deadening effects of opting out at work.
Among other things, this requires looking more closely at the components of your job. For example, what are you doing when you feel most proud of yourself at work? Is it when you’re presenting, selling, convincing, organizing, writing, learning new things, mobilizing people, being creative, or helping others? It is whatever makes you shine.
What gives you the greatest feelings of accomplishment? Solving a problem before anyone else, earning the praise of someone you respect, providing real value to a customer, improving a process, or doing more with less?
In your field (and related fields), what is the value of the skills and experiences that you’re gaining? What are the job descriptions where you might use the foundation you’re building for an even better fit? In a work environment like we have today, it is always time to think like an entrepreneur and do more research to understand the job market that you’re in.
When you’re continuously looking for opportunities to improve your pride, sense of accomplishment, and value in the workforce, training becomes less about what employers happen to be providing and more about the kinds of returns that you want for yourself in terms of growing capability, continuous satisfaction, and the ability to shape your own future.
Moreover, when these are your qualifications, it becomes easier to move from one job to another. Your natural allies become the men and women who made the same kinds of investments and share the same work priorities, even though they happen to be one or two rungs above you on the job ladder. Your way into conversation with them is your common interests, talents, experiences and rhythms of work. They will hear your commitments when you have them, feel your engagement when you are engaged. They will tell you whether you can find what you’re looking for in their jobs or industries, or where you should be looking if it’s somewhere else.
Conversations like this can also be your best guides through the unending thicket of job training. Those who see some of themselves in you are also more likely to give you sound advice about the training you’ll need to do their jobs, as well as the best places to find that training. The connection you make with them can sometimes be powerful enough that they offer to bring you on and train you themselves. That’s how much you’ll stand out in today’s workforce.
Knowing the most marketable and satisfying aspects of your work—along with why you need your work to be engaging in the first place—are always the keys to a better job.
The fact that employers are providing less training today will never stand in your way as long as that way of thinking is your guide.
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