“My father worked for the same firm for twelve years. They fired him.  They replaced him with a tiny gadget, this big. It does everything my father did, only much better. The depressing thing is my mother ran out and bought one.

 Woody Allen 

ACTUAL CASE HISTORIES*You can see it all around you: jobs and careers that seem to be headed toward obsolescence. Can you avoid being one of those who is “left behind?”:

Item: Marilyn followed in her parents’ footsteps to become a travel agent. Little did she know that Expedia, Orbitz and other online travel sites would rapidly replace more than one half of those employed in her industry.

Item: President Obama recently asked members of an audience to raise their hands if, in the past few months, they had any contact with a bank teller. No one raised a hand.  

Item:  An increasing number of Americans in need of surgery are traveling to India for their operations – at one tenth the cost, in brand new hospitals – and seeing the local sights as part of the bargain.  

Item: Large online companies, like “Legal Zoom,” are performing incorporations, wills and simple patent applications – that traditionally kept lawyers and small law firms afloat.

Item: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that 54,000 U.S. Postal Service mail sorters and machine operators will be out of work in the next seven years.

Item: And, yet, there are acute shortages of nurses specialized in geriatric care. And, as always, you may need to wait two weeks for a plumber to fix your toilet.

What do these observations tell us, and what can we learn from them?

LESSON TO LEARN: Over time, the world has always changed, it is changing faster today than it probably ever has, and it will likely continue to change faster than it is doing today. Due to technological, sociological and even biological trends, we are all faced with a challenge like never before: we must all learn to adapt ourselves – or risk being “left behind.”

Adaptation – changing with the changes around you – can mean a lot of things. Because the ozone layer seems to be diminishing, it might be healthier to use sun screens, or maybe even limit your time in direct sunlight. Because of the increasing presence of chemicals in our daily lives, it might mean eating more food grown organically. At work, adaptation means staying employed and employable by continually giving thought to the careers you choose, the jobs you apply for, and even the skills you learn each day.  

Whether you’re 22 or 72, there are things you can do. And should do. Sure, you can choose to ignore these things, but sooner or later you’ll lament your decision to do so.

WHAT YOU CAN DO: Here are six suggestions meant to get you thinking a bit about avoiding the “obsolete job” trap:

1. Steer away from “Commodity Careers.” – Bank tellers are being replaced by ATM machines. Mortgage applications can be taken online. Even foreign exchange traders have found that computers can easily replace them. Notice that each of these occupations involve discreet transactions involving money that have, to a large extent, been either offshored to low-wage locales, or transformed into computer tasks.   

Watch for a likely shrinkage in financial industry employment as the world’s appetite for risk, and patience for those who produce little of real value, dissipate.

2. Could your job function be outsourced? – Many services that require human interaction are being transferred to lower-wage, lower-benefit locales in the name of “productivity.” This phenomenon has been underway for a long time, and has only recently decelerated. Still, employers are finding more and more functions that can be transferred to lower-cost locales. Computer services, in particular, have seen large-scale job transfers to outsourced companies.   

The size and scope of our mega-universities will likely diminish as online education grows, and taxpayer subsidies for higher education shrink. On the other hand, electricians are here to stay.

3. Seek specialty niches within your industry or profession. – Many lawyers are presently out of work, and young lawyers are having a hard time finding jobs. But no one knows a lawyer who specializes in (a) all of the law relevant to the construction, maintenance and inspections of elevators, (b) all of the law relevant to the cleanliness, safety and pricing of water, or (c) all of the law relevant to contracts to sell digital content of one website to another on the internet. Yet, each of these specialties within the legal field are, in fact, growing and busy.  

That’s because (a) elevators are getting older in every building, (b) water is becoming a scarcer commodity, and concerns about its effects on health are growing, and (c) the sale of content on the internet is a new industry, and seemingly exploding. 

Why then, would you seek to become a lawyer who works on mortgage bonds, which have effectively disappeared from existence?

4. Watch demographic trends. – It seems nearly one in 100 children will now be or become autistic. That will require an awfully large number of people with the skills to help them. Likewise, the “baby boom” generation is rapidly approaching retirement, and the ill health that often plagues them, and their more common illnesses, such as diabetes, joint problems and dementia.

Watch for what might become the next new blockbuster industry: mechanical eyes, manufactured hearts, and even cultivated human skin, all to replace out natural organs that have failed or been injured. Also, as our world shrinks, and cultural diversity increases, consider the advantages of becoming multi-lingual. 

5. The migration to online business is only accelerating. – We are probably at the earliest stages of the great internet transformation of our world economy. There are so many advantages to online commerce that it just won’t stop growing. If your career is dependent on physical access to customers, or the proximity of large crowds, you might give thought to how you might move your functions online. If you don’t, chances are your competition will.

The New York Times has done a superb job of moving from “paper” to “electronic,” while so many other newspapers have gone bankrupt. There go all those newspaper delivery jobs.

6. Simpler is not better; complex is. – Seek careers that require considerable “investment” to enter, whether that means training as an apprentice, many years of study, or devotion of extreme time and effort. Consider careers that require multi-disciplinary thought and analysis. If your role in society is deemed valuable, and there are only a few of you to fullfill that role, well, then, you’re “made in the shade.”

In our more complex world, the ability to communicate effectively with a wide variety of perspectives will likely become a more sought-after attribute.

SkloverWorkingWisdom™ emphasizes smart negotiating – and navigating – for yourself at work and in career. Negotiation and navigation of work and career issues requires that you think “out of the box,” and avoid risks at every point in your career. Knowing ways to lower and eliminate risks gives you a distinct advantage in navigating workplace life. Knowing ways to avoid and resolve disputes is even more advantageous. Positioning yourself to obtain maximum advantage is perhaps most important. Learning the “in’s and out’s” of doing so is what we are here for. Now it’s up to you.       

Always be proactive. Always be creative. Always be persistent. Always be vigilant. And always do what you can to achieve for yourself, your family, and your career. Take all available steps to increase and secure employment “rewards” and eliminate or reduce employment “risks.” That’s what SkloverWorkingWisdom™ is all about.

*A note about our Actual Case Histories: In order to preserve client confidences, and protect client identities, we alter certain facts, including the name, age, gender, position, date, geographical location, and industry of our clients. The essential facts, the point illustrated and the lesson to be learned, remain actual.    

Please Note: This Newsletter is not legal advice, but only an effort to provide generalized information about important topics related to employment and the law. Legal advice can only be rendered after formal retention of counsel, and must take into account the facts and circumstances of a particular case. Those in need of legal advice, counsel or representation should retain competent legal counsel licensed to practice law in their locale. 

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© 2012, Alan L. SkloverAll Rights Reserved. Commercial Use Prohibited.