Thursday, February 19, 2009

Are You Shovel Ready?

There's been an image that I can't get out of my head for the last week.

You might think it's something horrific, and in a way, it is.

I was channel surfing one day, trying to find something to watch on television besides "Real Housewives of Orange County" and "Two Weeks Notice." I came across a program talking about the job losses in this country, and it immediately caught my attention.

The reporter stuck her microphone in a man's face to ask him about his unemployment. He was gray-haired, with a matching mustache. He looked a bit shy to be on camera, but he quietly stated: "If I had a little bit of training, I know I could do anything."

And there it was: The image that wouldn't leave my head. For me, this man became the poster child for what every worker is going through who has lost a job. In a way, my heart broke for him, because I could see the pride on his face, but also the desperation and the worry. I heard in his simple words that he didn't want a handout, that even with a head full of gray hair, he was willing to do whatever work was available.

But, I could also sense in him the confusion about what he should be doing next. Obviously, he knew that things were changing and he needed to be ready for that change. But how?

Here's what I would have told him: Get shovel-ready.

State and local governments have put in their requests to get a piece of the bailout money, and one of the ways they're trying to make their request stand out is by saying they're "shovel ready." In other words, give them the cash and they've literally got people standing around with shovels and bulldozers and a host of other equipment ready to start shoring up a shaky infrastructure immediately.

And that's exactly the strategy all workers -- whether they're currently employed or not -- need to adopt.

Afew questions you should be asking yourself now to make sure you're ready to go:

1. Am I in an industry expected to grow in the future or benefit from the stimulus package?
2.What skills do I have that can be put into play right now by an employer who will see their business pick up because of the government money?
3. Who do I know who will be seeing this money flow to them or their company? Are they aware of my skills or my company and how that can help them meet their goals?

If you think you're not in a growth industry, with needed skills, then it's time to do something to get yourself more shovel ready. Recently, I interviewed some educational experts about training programs, and learned that vocational-technical programs offer lots of educational training beyond the traditional electrician or welder programs.

Many programs offer training and classes for paralegals, physician's assistants and computer programmer. All these jobs pay in the $40,000 and up range, and are expected to be in demand in the coming years. (Check out the Department of Labor website, which lists growth industries and jobs.) At the same time, many companies offer "apprenticeship" programs, where you work for a small salary while you are trained for a specific job. Either the vo-tech or apprenticeship programs are also much more affordable than many four-year college programs.

I know that looking for a job is a full-time job. But it's time to be realistic about whether your training is outdated and your industry sinking fast. If that's the case, it's time to get some training in another area, so that when the time comes, you too are "shovel ready."

What are some other steps to take to be better prepared to compete in this job market?

Lijit Search


David Benjamin said...


I've been having more and more conversations with professionals in job transition and singing a similar tune.

What skills do you have? Are they in demand? Will someone pay you for doing what you are trained to do? If the answer is "No" better get some training in a marketable industry, yesterday!

Times have changed dramatically over the past 30-40 years. People use to say, "Jack of all trades, master of none". Now it's the same people who possess these various skillsets that are positioned to succeed in this highly competitive marketplace.

Anita said...

I think one lesson we'll all come away with from this downturn is managing our own career has to be more than lip service. We really do have to stay up on world trends, how the markets are reacting, what issues impact our industry -- and then start planning how we're gong to react, not just wait on our employers to take action. Because as we've seen, if we do that, it may just be too late.