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How to Ensure Your Career Doesn't Go the Way of the Pontiac

WITI News Staff

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By Dr. Marcia F. Robinson

Horse-drawn transportation disappeared a little more than a century ago. Jump forward to the last decade and General Motors said goodbye to the Pontiac, once beloved as a favorite Muscle Car for Americans. Once the car had no more tangible utility to the organization, its fate was sealed, and the last unit rolled off the assembly line in 2010. A fantastic photo of the Pontiac in its prime prompted me to wonder if the GM employees who produced the car had forecasted the impact of the elimination on their own jobs, careers or industry?

Let's forget the death of the Pontiac for a moment and think instead about the rapid obsolescence of technology right now. To stay competitive, business entities are putting time and resources into risk management and obsolescence forecasting. That's the right thing to do. Concurrently, employees need to create their own risk and obsolescence planning for their own careers, jobs and work tasks. Employees, like businesses, must stay agile enough to pivot through the future of what Erik Brynjolfsson calls "the growing pains of a radically reorganized economy."

If we aren't paying attention, we could find ourselves being rolled off the company's balance sheet just like the Pontiac or, if you prefer, the Palm Pilot. Consider the following as you plan.

1. Don't just listen; Scan the environment. There is an adage that says, "Promises are a comfort to a fool." Listen, but verify what is said by leadership. Evaluate situations for yourself. Use your own good judgment to evaluate what is happening around you. Read annual reports and press releases. Ask questions and draw your own conclusions.

2. Start building new skills that are in demand in your organization, industry or profession. Look both inside and outside your company for hints at a direction and figure out where you fit now or will fit. Put a plan in place to build the skills you need.

3. Make the effort to engage with and support other people. Our tendency sometimes is to think we are alone in our job or career anxiety. This is not true. There are others in the same boat and creating a network of supporters is one way to stay alert and avoid any negative personal impact of obsolescence.

4. Act for the present but stay focused on the future. Perform well right now, but know that your goal is not loyalty to any specific company. Your commitment should be on long term sustainability-of-self and lifelong employability.

5. Manage your workplace stress. Employees are stressed about the revolving door of new technologies to learn and adapt, the pressures of being tethered to work constantly, and the fear of being replaced, either wholly or in part, by automated systems. Finding ways to manage this stress is crucial to being alert and aware of impactful changes.

There are no guarantees in life and even if/when we do all the right things, we could still be caught off guard. However, we must invest in managing our own careers or connections to work to avoid career obsolescence.

Dr. Marcia F. Robinson, SPHR, SHRM-SCP
Founder, The HBCU Career Center

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