For baby boomers, the path was simple: Stay in school, ideally through college. Get a job in a large corporation or government, and a few decades later collect a pension.
The formula didn’t work for everyone, but it served many and was worth aspiring to.
Now the majority of us have a degree or at least some post-secondary education. Corporations, governments and even universities offer more contract, short-term and part-time work. A secure pension seems to be an illusion. Just ask any Sears retiree.
On top of this, any media will tell you that machines, robots and artificial intelligence will replace humans in the workplace.
What to do?
It will be a while before machines can create, operate and maintain themselves. In the meantime – starting yesterday – we very much need people to invent, make, run and maintain the machines. With a little planning and effort, you can have a very successful, exciting and lucrative career doing this. Did I mention that it will be using technology? According to labour market analyst Michael Izen, that’s where the work will be.
You don’t necessarily need a university degree and the pile of debt that often comes with it to get started. A shorter technician or technologist program usually brings offers of work even before graduation. In fact, the majority of British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) students already have a university degree which, to their surprise, didn’t lead to a job.
If you’re really self-motivated, you can pick up the skills you need on the Internet. Companies in the popular field of electronic entertainment hire people based on their portfolios. Those who are self-taught and motivated often have better portfolios than those who went through a training program.
While technical training and abilities will get your career off to good start, a degree will probably be necessary to move up. You can build on earlier studies to complete a technical or engineering degree, or consider a business course, perhaps an MBA. Some executive MBA programs might even give you credit for your work experience. Many can be completed while you’re working (no one said it would be easy).
As you add to your education, consider courses in entrepreneurship.
There will always be a lot of work for people who know how to create and use our ever-advancing technology, but this work will usually come as contracts, projects and assignments rather than old-fashioned jobs. Professionals like engineers have long worked this way.
Entrepreneurship is not innate, but it can be learned. The only workplace security today comes from knowing what you can do next. People working on their own behalf are in a much better position to plan their next steps. Entrepreneurs create their own work and provide work for others.
Here are some hints to help you get started on a successful career:
- Keep your skills up. You don’t always need formal courses to do this but remember that technology doesn’t stand still.
- Spend less than you make. Savings will allow you to take time off occasionally and will see you through a dry period. Those savings will also fund your retirement.
- Build and maintain your networks. Most work comes from people who know you and like what you do.
- Take care of yourself. Balance your work with recreation and family time. Follow good health habits. Entrepreneurs can’t afford to burn out or get sick.
Remember, all this applies to everyone, not just nerds. Technology covers the whole economy. Women and men need to become more technological and entrepreneurial. At the 20 biggest tech companies in B.C., seven of the top executives are female.
The strong demand for technological talent means no company can afford discrimination – that is, if they’re following the 21st-century guide to success.
Troy Media columnist Roslyn Kunin is a consulting economist and speaker.