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Be ready to adjust and excel in new roles Career change is new norm

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I'm always sad when I learn of staff reductions and layoffs and recently, that's what's caused me to generally reflect on employee career planning and how people handle their layoff situation. While we've certainly had our share of layoffs in Manitoba, the most recent notice of layoffs coming from two major retailers, suggests that shifts in our employment market are still occurring.

Why are these shifts happening and will they ever stop? To be blunt, the answer is no and besides that, the situation is not unique. In fact, ever since the industrial revolution, businesses have been adjusting and changing, downsizing or upsizing, centralizing and decentralizing, all in response to their environment.

For instance, in the case of Shoppers Drug Mart, change in the Canadian marketplace that lowers the cost of generic drugs is driving the need for their cost-cutting initiatives. In the case of the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC), which was once a Canadian owned and historic business, the influx of the American Target Store chain is driving many of their adjustments. While we might not like the fact these two retailers as well as others are reducing labour expenses by shedding employees, the cost-cutting strategy is probably critical to their very corporate survival.

However, staff reductions such as this are not made indiscriminately. In fact, there is a lot of planning behind the scenes. These corporations are constantly engaging in strategic planning exercises that enable them to respond to changing marketplace conditions. They take time to examine their various markets and customers, review the competition, the labour market, the economy in general, and the political and regulatory environment in which they operate. Next, they will examine their own strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities in order to set a strategic direction and specific objectives for the next few years. Of course, as we well know, a strategic plan can be interrupted by a crisis and so businesses must also create an ability to act quickly and decisively.

Yet, what about the employees who were recently laid off? What plans did they have in place to protect their livelihood? What strategies have they put in place to ensure long-term employability and to weather any challenging market changes? Sad but true, I can tell you from experience that most employees fail to plan their career at any stage of their life, let alone plan for market and environmental changes. In fact, if there is any career planning, it's usually directed toward entry into a profession and a first job. I rarely see people planning beyond this first accomplishment and when they do, planning is usually directed toward overcoming a crisis such as a layoff or dealing with a bad boss.

This lack of planning is still occurring even when it's been many years since the concept of a "lifetime career" has gone by the wayside. Years ago, individuals typically had one job and over time, it has become more common to see people with up to three jobs in their career. Well, change is continuing and today I predict that employees will not only have fiv to 10 different jobs in their lifetime, they may well have three to five totally different careers. Some of these careers might well be an extension of an initial career but others may be distinctly different.

For instance, take the profession of human resources as an example. The historical role only 25 years ago was called personnel officer with responsibility mostly for policing attendance and managing payroll. Today, human resource professionals have careers ranging from that of a generalist working in eight functional areas to specializing in any one of the functional areas. In other words, individuals can have a career role as a recruiter, a payroll and benefits expert, a training and development specialist and/or a change management specialist. Then, if and when the individual wishes to move and/or gets laid off, they might be able to move within any of these job categories and create a lifelong career in the field.

While change is all around us and might seem rather frightening for some, change also creates multiple employee career opportunities. The challenge however, is how to create a long-term career plan especially when many employees do not believe they have any control. So, let me repeat my standard mantra:

You are the only person in charge of your career! In other words, you need to think of yourself as your own "business owner" and engage in strategic career planning at every stage of your life.

The following five brief tips will help to build strengths into your career that will ensure success in your many future jobs and help to create overall continuity for a long term career.

Check out the work landscape -- when examining any line of work and/or profession, conduct research in order to clearly understand the potential future for this choice of work. The easiest resource is to turn to the government website, www.workingincanada.gc.ca to explore job market trends, and labour projections by occupation. Information is available in summary, detail and in-depth technical documents.

Connect with the industry sector -- when considering a specific profession; ask for referrals to leading individuals in the industry sector, meet with them and inquire about current changes and what's expected in the future. Get a feeling for the lifestyle and the lifeline of this career. Explore related or associate careers in each industry and project potential career paths that could lead to lifelong success.

Be a continuous learner -- with jobs changing at such a fast rate, many careers are moving to become more "professionalized." Formal professional associations are being created to elevate the importance of their roles and increasingly higher layers of skills are being required for certifications. These certifications in turn are becoming more and more recognized as essential for entering, progressing and/or staying in a career. Where possible, always focus on getting recognized credentials.

Focus on transferable skills -- in my view, the best job security someone can create during their career is to focus not simply on the technical skills of a profession but to focus on transferable skills. Communication and leadership skills for instance are transferable to any industry sector. Problem-solving and decision-making skills along with many others are also transferable. Keep this in mind at all times and build up your skills toolbox.

Broaden your contact base -- most employees get so involved in their work that they fail to stay in touch with people they've met along the way. Then, when they are suddenly out of work, there are very few people to turn to. Set a goal to create and maintain a network of contacts, former colleagues, bosses and general friends and be sure to never lose touch. Use today's social media tools to your advantage. Next, reach out and help these friends so they'll be there for you when needed.

In my opinion, there's no way around it, change in our employment world is simply the name of the game. Get ready, adjust and excel.

Barbara J. Bowes, FCHRP, CMC, CCP, is president of Legacy Bowes Group and vice-president of Waterhouse Executive Search. She can be reached at barb@legacybowes.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 20, 2012 H1

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