Are you future-Proof?

2020 Fall / Career / In Depth / November 13, 2020
Story by Michelle Woodard | Photos by George Webber
Despite the profound impact of COVID-19 on the work world, one certainty remains untouched — change. LINK explores some insights, tips and tricks to help stay positive, explore new areas and prepare for the future.

As COVID-19 continues to shake the work world to its core, one pre-pandemic certainty remains: change — by choice or by circumstance — is inevitable. That doesn’t mean it’s easy.Explore SAIT's new School for Advanced Digital Technology at sait.ca/digital-technology

Whether you now find yourself working from home, or working in a role that has dramatically changed, or working to find your next job, these resources and tips can help reframe feelings about your situation, expand your thinking about the world of work, and offer ways to prepare for the future.

Repeated reinventions

At 40 years old and three years into his fourth career, Taylor Robinson (AELP ’09, EET ’17) is living proof that you really can reinvent yourself — repeatedly. A back injury ended his four-and-a-half-year run with the Canadian Armed Forces. His brief stint as a train engineer was stopped short with a layoff. And when his nine-year career as an electrician ended with a dire warning from doctors — find a less physically demanding job or risk not being able to walk by the time he was 50 — it turned out to be the first step on Robinson’s journey into tech.

I had a two-year-old son, I was in pain and I was scared. Changing careers and studying Electrical Engineering Technology wasn’t easy, but it was so worth it. I love the digital side of my job now. — Taylor Robinson, AELP ’09, EET ’17

DID YOU KNOW? Skills Canada offers free online self-assessments for nine essential skills including computer use. Those strong feelings, both negative and positive, are perfectly normal, says Julie Egers, a counsellor with SAIT’s Lamb Learner Success Centre. When you experience changes in your work situation that are beyond your control — say, being injured or laid off due to a global pandemic, a struggling economy or automation — feeling angry, sad or afraid makes just as much sense as feeling excited or relieved does when a change happens by choice.

Regardless of your reason for reimagining your career, there are ways to make that journey smoother. “Having a mentor and being part of a healthy community can both really help us thrive — and make it easier to bounce back when we face adversity,” says Egers.

So can looking at your career, and your life, as something that is within your control.

 

A growth mindset

“Embracing a growth mindset means looking for opportunities to learn and grow from our experiences,” explains Egers. “To see the challenges we face not as failures or insurmountable roadblocks, but as important parts of the journey.”

Not only can a growth mindset help you through transition, but its emphasis on resilience and willingness to embrace change can demonstrate the qualities employers want. “More and more, employers are telling us that being able to adapt and learn new things are key skills they’re looking for,” says Erin Boyle (MGMT ’10), Coordinator of SAIT’s Career Advancement Services.

And in spite of daunting unemployment numbers, employers are still looking for skilled employees, says Boyle. “There are a lot of jobs out there — they’re just different kinds of jobs. The supply chain sector is huge, and customer service and client outreach skills are in great demand.”

Image of Erin Boyle standing on mezzanine in Atrium

“One of our best pieces of advice,” says Erin Boyle, Coordinator of SAIT’s Career Advancement Services, “is to use the analytics feature on LinkedIn for gathering labour market information, and the alumni feature to identify gaps in your skillsets.”

Taking time to consider how the world has been impacted by COVID-19 and how your skill set might match with the skills employers need now more than ever could give you a leg up, says Boyle. “Customer relations skills, experience working remotely and understanding collaboration software can all help you get a foot in the door with a company that might have future opportunities in a department or specialty you want.”

 

A spotlight on technology

“But perhaps the most important thing anyone looking to future-proof their career can do”, says Boyle, “is to follow Robinson’s lead and consider tech. An aging population, increased competition and automation were already driving us toward a new employment reality, but the outfall of COVID-19 is shining a spotlight on just how firmly rooted in technology the future will be.”

Many of the top 15 up-and-coming careers listed in LinkedIn’s 2020 Canada Emerging Jobs Report didn’t exist five years ago, and even if you’re not interested in an email signature that says AI specialist, data engineer or experience designer, the report suggests the entire workforce needs to acquire new skills — including data literacy and communication — to stay competitive.

So how should you begin planning a career that’s future proof?

Connect the dots

Lara Schuelke (APM ’13), an advisor with SAIT’s Career Advancement Services, suggests starting with a good, hard look in the mirror. “You need to know what interests you, what you’re good at, what makes you happy and what you care about,” she says.

 

Getting a broader picture of the possibilities can introduce you to jobs you haven’t considered — or don’t even know exist. — Lara Schuelke

Once you have a better sense of your interests and preferences, you can start matching them with jobs, work settings and careers. Assessment tools, including the Strong Interest Inventory Assessment, can help connect the dots. The 291 questions included in the Strong, says Schuelke — who is certified to deliver the assessment by appointment through Career Advancement Services — are less about narrowing prospects than widening them.

“We tend to have a fairly good sense of what we like and what we don’t, but people are usually surprised by the number of different careers that align with their interests,” she says. “Getting a broader picture of the possibilities can introduce you to jobs you haven’t considered — or don’t even know exist.”

When you have a basic idea of which direction you want to take — whether it’s upgrading skills within your current field or moving to something brand new — labour market information (LMI) can help you track trends in the overall job market, employment sectors, companies and positions, says Boyle.

Identify the gaps

Boyle’s favourite LMI tool is one that 16.5 million Canadians already have right on their smartphones. You might think of LinkedIn as a professional network-building site, but drill down through the layers, she says, and its powerful analytics can also reveal information about which organizations are hiring for which positions, and help you identify gaps in your own skillset, education and experience.

Using LMI often helps people discover that they already have a lot of the skills they need for the next job they want to pursue. — Erin Boyle

Digging through company profiles, explains Boyle, can shed light on how position names vary between organizations. Individual profiles can tell you a lot about the skills, training and experiences you might need to enter a new field. But most powerful, says Boyle, is LinkedIn’s alumni feature. Search for SAIT and you’ll find a built-in community that is loaded with LMI. Looking for people who were in your SAIT program, who have job titles like the one you currently have (or the one you want), or who work for companies you’re interested in can unlock a whole new set of data — and open new doors.

 

“It can also make you feel a whole heck of a lot better,” says Boyle. “Using LMI often helps people discover that they already have a lot of the skills they need for the next job they want to pursue. They might need to add a specific credential, or they may only have a tiny skills gap to fill.”

Think small, plan big

Filling that gap, says Vis Naidoo, doesn’t necessarily mean pursuing a lengthy program of study.

“Not everyone wants or needs to take a one-year course or even a three-month course,” says Naidoo. He’s the Director of SAIT’s new Centre for Continuing Education and Professional Studies (CCEPS), which launched this past July. “They’re looking for something specific to help them in their work.”

It’s why many organizations, including CCEPS, are thinking small — micro courses, micro credits and micro credentials — and looking at new ways of delivering programming that people need to navigate our current employment reality.

“In the past, online learning has often been viewed as second-best,” says Naidoo. “But we’re seeing a substantive change in that mindset, given both our current situation and advances in technology that allow us to add a range of value to online learning, whether that’s virtual reality or new methods of assessment.”

 

Courage to take the first step

His advice when it comes to figuring out which courses might help you shift direction in your career? Have the courage to actually take the first step.

“Solutions to problems require a decision, courage and action,” Naidoo says. “Once you’ve made the decision, you need to have the courage to take that first step. Use your capacity to learn, to hone your skills, and to adapt in a positive way.”

 





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