Worried about the future? You’re not alone: Seven out of 10 millennial women don’t feel prepared for the new economy. Donna Tang outlines a game plan.
Technology is fantastic when it’s on your side. Already, artiﬁcial intelligence and automation are taking over many of the mundane tasks we dread, freeing us up to focus on more rewarding work. On the other hand, with tech disruption felling giants like Blackberry, Newsweek and Myspace seemingly overnight, we worry that we might be next. Business trend guru Seth Godin puts it best: “What can I become quite good at that’s really difficult for a computer to do one day? How can I become so resilient, so human and such a linchpin that shifts in technology won’t be able to catch up?”
While staying ahead of the future seems an impossible task, it’s really just a matter of strategy and adapting. Here’s how you make yourself indispensable.
Start with where you are now.
Make sure you’re putting the most effort into developing core soft skills you can apply wherever you work in future. Think of it this way: If you’re renting a house, you’d be better off investing in furniture you can take with you, not renovation or ﬁxtures that won’t work anywhere else.
Happily, soft skills aren’t only the most transferable, they’re also the ones computers can’t replace. “Your people skills really matter, so seek out every chance to improve them. If you show a ﬂexible, curious and can-do nature, and prove a pleasure to work with, there’s a good chance that opportunities will keep coming your way,” says Luke Clark, 42, senior content manager Asia-Paciﬁc at recruitment agency Michael Page. Brush up on your communication, and look for opportunities to demonstrate leadership, teamwork, planning and research abilities. In particular, take on projects – self-management skills will be key as traditional workplaces are phased out and employees work more independently.
This may all require a mindset shift. If your measure of career advancement is being promoted, you’ve got it wrong. Julie Zhuo, Facebook’s vice-president of product design, compares confusing career success with getting a promotion to equating “being a good friend” with “getting invited to a friend’s wedding”. Don’t miss the forest for the trees: Promotions aren’t forever, skills are. Playing politics or sucking up is not going to make you a more attractive hire for another company down the line.
Accordingly, be open to moves sideways which give you the chance to learn. “Even if it’s not a higher pay grade, or is a seemingly ‘lesser’ title, think about the growth opportunity for the future, not the salary level now,” advises Sonia Magill, 34, a logistics manager who moved from sales to operations within her company. “What could you learn from a different perspective, and how could this improve your prospects in the future? Don’t be afraid to take that risk to move sideways or even backwards for a couple of years. After all, it’s only two to three years of a lifelong career!”
Next, consider your professional skill set.
The old wisdom about securing your rice bowl by becoming the best at what you do no longer cuts it in an age when any ﬁeld might become obsolete. Instead, we need to double – or triple – our areas of expertise. Meaning, instead of striving to be the best at one thing, aim to be in the top 25 per cent at two or more things.
This makes you rarer and more in demand as companies streamline. Scott Adams, who combines humour, drawing and a deep understanding of corporate humdrum to create the Dilbert comics, explains it this way: “You make yourself rare by combining two or more ‘pretty goods’ until no one else has your mix.” Strategise to be the only person who can do a particular combination of things, by picking up a skill that complements what you already do. For instance, if you’re in marketing, learn graphic design. The good news is that this is much easier to do than trying to be the best marketeer in the world. Other skills that are useful to have and complement different industries include photo editing, coding mobile apps or custom plug-ins, SEO copywriting, bookkeeping, and additional languages.
Even if it’s not a higher pay grade, or is a seemingly “lesser” title, think about the growth opportunity for the future, not the salary level now.
Found your new niches? This is your personal brand. Now build it, and spread the word to anyone who’ll listen. Social media is made for this (see sidebar). All the while, stay mindful about upgrading the technical skills speciﬁc to you. Keep up to date with industry publications, trends and job postings to identify which skills are valued in your career, and ﬁll the gaps in your skill set. Aim for a new certiﬁcation each year – this shows employers you are passionate and proactive. Consult traditional mentors, but Luke also suggests considering advice from those younger than you: “This will ensure that you understand what’s changing, and where the gaps are for people like you.”
Bonus: Want to dip your toes into emerging technology? Wendy Yew, 34, CEO of Adtomate, a marketing automation ﬁrm, recommends getting familiar with the four elements of the new economy: artiﬁcial intelligence, blockchain, cybersecurity and data analysis.
“Many people are fearful of technology as it seems alien and complex, but tech skills are taught in levels, beginning at the general level before going up to intermediate, advanced, then deep tech. So don’t be intimidated, just take baby steps,” she advises.
For an overview of emerging technologies, try the Skillsfuture for Digital Workplace programme, or get a little deeper into the fundamentals with the Skillsfuture Korea Blockchain Immersion Trip, which includes a visit to South Korea. Online learning platform Udemy is an affordable option for exposing yourself to the basics, while the Singapore Institute of Management’s much-in-demand Singularity University events give a great in-depth look into utilising cutting-edge technology. Wendy also recommends joining tech-centred meet-ups and associations, like Betas (Blockchain and Emerging Technology Association of Singapore), which holds free talks.
It’s all about the gig economy now, and employers want hires with an entrepreneurial mindset. Not only is hustlin’ a crash course in all the core soft skills at once, there’s nothing like it for teaching you how to present and execute ideas. Plus, if all goes well, your side gig might develop into a handy backup plan for the future.
“I deﬁnitely think that getting entrepreneurial experience is the best way to future-proof ourselves. I learnt so much that I never would have working for someone else,” shares Faye Sit, 28, co-founder of Hook Coffee. “I’ve gained skills in all aspects of business from marketing and branding to management and ﬁnance, and even fundraising. It also shows people that you’re hard-working, hands-on, risk-taking, creative, analytical and so on.”
Have a small business idea you’ve been toying with? There’s never been a better time to start an e-commerce project. Statista has forecast that online spending will surpass US$3 trillion (S$4 trillion) this year, with an estimated 1.92 billion people buying something online.
If that seems like too much work, remember that at its most basic, entrepreneurship is designing, launching and running a business – which can span a whole range of projects. How about a part-time deejaying gig? Even starting and maintaining a blog counts. Or help a start-up and learn from someone else’s experience. Befriend the owner of a local business you enjoy, then ask questions and provide feedback. You might be surprised at the response – most entrepreneurs are always looking for input and support.
At the very least, start viewing yourself as a business. How can you package yourself, and what resources could you mine? Take your hobbies a step further by turning them into skills you can put on your CV, whether you’re into sports or calligraphy. Look for certiﬁcations you could get, or competitions to join. Better yet, get accredited as an instructor. Volunteering to organise hobby-related community events is also a useful way to network and raise your own proﬁle.
Build Your Brand on Social Media
In this brave new world, if a tree falls in the forest and no one retweets it, it doesn’t make a sound. Put social media to use in raising your profile:
Pick your platform. While it’s plain annoying on Facebook, posting every work milestone, minor win and new interaction on Linkedin is perfectly acceptable.
Distil your unique skills into a neat one-liner that clearly explains what you do.
Standardise your personal branding across your different social media accounts, from your handle to your summary. You should be on Youtube, Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram. Also Weibo, Snapchat and Tumblr, if they’re relevant to you.
Position yourself as an expert by starting a blog, publishing articles on Medium, or answering a question a day on Quora. Build your reputation by offering to give Ted talks in your area of expertise, or volunteering to organise a local Tedx event.
Follow successful companies and industry leaders (especially on Twitter) and observe closely how they craft their brand, whom they follow and interact with, the frequency and content of their posts, and so on. Apply what you learn to your own accounts until you understand how to get followers and interaction.
As bonus skills, learn the ins and outs of Facebook advertising and Google Analytics from the two giants themselves. Access the online courses at https://facebook.com/blueprint and https://analytics.google.com/analytics/academy.