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Career Advice for Workers of Any Generation

Feb. 11, 2021
Adapting your skills, career goals, network, and industry knowledge is more important as you age in the workforce. Changes will happen, so prepare yourself.

The start of a New Year is always a great time to consider a new direction, but career evaluation is always timely, for anyone, at any age or career stage. And adapting your skills, career goals, network, and industry knowledge is more important as you age in the workforce. Take some time to focus, internally and externally, how you can make the best moves for your career.

1.  Be aware of your communication style. Experience, profession, industry, and education shape your interpersonal and leadership style in the workplace. I have a Midwestern and military background, so I have a direct, no-nonsense, and “get-er-done” work style shaped by a family of farmers, by deployments, and coaches’ encouragement to always “hustle.”  Knowing this, I take care each day to talk face-to-face or phone to engage co-workers, so that I understand their challenges. In short, I force myself to “slow down,” so I get everyone’s feedback. In today’s workforce, people of older generations must be aware and adapt to younger generations, so that the organization can succeed.

2.  Expand your network. I have spent most of my career in business-to-business (B2B) marketing for the logistics industry. Knowing that, I strive to develop contacts in technology, higher education, finance, and manufacturing to improve my career “portability.” I certainly hope that I never leave my current role, but if I must leave it I want to have a large and broad network through which to locate my next opportunities. LinkedIn has made keeping and building a network easier, but it still demands our effort. Most importantly, do not forget traditional meet-and-greet, conferences, and other public events where you can engage other industry leaders.

3.  Stay active. Google your name, what comes up? This is a very simple test to understand how the public perceives your personal brand. If your name is attached to press releases, news stories, public events, and education – awesome. Keep at it. If nothing comes up, then start to determine how to position yourself in initiatives you personally value. Volunteering, helping at the local school, speaking in a college classroom, or helping service members launch their post-military careers are all ways to do something good and build your digital brand. Today, everyone researches everyone’s digital footprint; ensure you have a positive one.

4.  Improve your formal education. Who has the time? No one and that is why it needs to remain a goal for everyone. Possessing formal education and improving your educational credentials at all stages of your career is an effective way to remain relevant. I just started a Master of Science in Data Science program that will take about two years to complete. Using larger amounts of more disparate types of data to solve increasingly difficult business problems is gaining importance in many industries. The speed and extent of change in business will continue, and it is always better for your career to get ahead of the change. A solid and continuously developing formal education helps to ensure you remain engaged.

5.  Live where you can work. Working beyond the traditional retirement age is a fact of business life now, regardless of your status. Working longer helps maximize your retirement income, helps in providing healthcare and other benefits, and aids in overall life satisfaction. Geography is a significant factor to support your career longevity -- locations that have a high labor-force participation rate and a low historical unemployment rate for workers aged 44 to 64. You should seek a place with high workforce engagement and low unemployment.

6.  Accept opportunities to learn. Any organization, business or government, offers some type of free training to upskill workers at a variety of ability levels. Take advantage of these classes whenever they are offered. Focus on classes and skills that will make you unique, valued, and versatile for a variety of roles. Skills in data use, technology, data visualization, cost reductions, productivity improvement, leadership, business growth, and customer satisfaction are in demand in every industry.

7.  Teach next-generation leaders. Being an expert in your current role is good. Being an expert and a teacher in your current role is awesome. Teaching the next generation of leaders and co-workers within your organization clearly separates an employee as a leader, and a valued participant. Generational teaching within the organization also is a way to learn new skills from younger employees and build inter-generational connections between employees.

8.  Understand recent technology. New technology and different ways of doing business offer both peril and promise. Attending conferences, reading the latest business news, keeping up-to-date on podcasts, and listening to leading speakers are all ways to understand how the latest technology helps and hurts an organization’s success. You do not have to be an expert, but understanding how new technology can help, or not help, your area makes you a business asset.

9.  Expect a career shock ... soon. Every employee at every level in an organization should always expect an immediate change to his or her employment status. This is not paranoia; it is a current workforce reality. Regardless of your skill, your status in the organization, and prior contributions – and through no fault of your own -- there are changes driven by international trade, brand-value changes, disruptive technology, state tax breaks, and breakout competitors that will affect your employment due to no fault of your own. Having a growing network, modern skills, a strong personal brand, and living in a dynamic economic community will keep your career prospects strong.

The New Year always brings a reexamination of your current and future career aspirations. Make 2021 a year of focus, determination, upskilling, and creating multiple, independent options for your ongoing career success.

Chad Storlie is a retired U.S. Army Special Forces Lieutenant Colonel with 20+ years of active duty and reserve service in infantry, Special Forces, and joint headquarters units, and 15 years' teaching experience as an adjunct Professor of Marketing. He is the author of “Combat Leader to Corporate Leader” and “Battlefield to Business Success.” Contact him at [email protected], or visit