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Skills to beat the depression

February 20, 2009 14:11 IST

Switch on the TV, open a magazine, eavesdrop on a cocktail party conversation, and sooner or later you'll hear a self-professed expert tout either networking or resume buffing as the key to success in the economic slump. But tweeting on Twitter or taking a tutorial on how to connect with people by talking sports will only get you so far.

If we're serious about preparing for tomorrow, the financial crisis reminds us of the importance of acquiring adaptive skills today in order to thrive in the industries that will come.

Big brother is back. President Barack Obama's $787 billion economic stimulus package, the largest in US history, can have a more direct effect on your career than you might have thought. Every major consulting firm has been licking its lips at the prospect of advising the government. Why should you be any different? Develop and market your skills in the areas where the government is going to invest most.

Where are those? To begin with, the plan outlines billions of dollars of public sector investment in transportation projects ($48 billion), education ($100 million), health care ($140 billion) and clean energy. Each will require varieties of both blue-collar and white-collar experience that many, many people have.

The gig economy. Tina Brown, the publishing veteran who recently launched The Daily Beast, has been doing the rounds on CNN and elsewhere heralding the age of what she calls the "gig economy," where instead of having a job everyone just has a flurry of "free-floating projects," or "gigs." She fears this trend, for being a gigster is a difficult and a second-best choice for most.

Either way, the structural shift toward providing modular services is clear. Incorporate yourself (as an S corporation or limited liability company, etc.), and start building your brand. Create a Web site, publish articles, circulate your credentials and learn to collaborate in virtual teams. Inoculate yourself against having your work outsourced by hybridising, combining skills that make you both a generalist and a specialist at once, such as management and technology, or law and bioethics.

Once markets pick up, the talent wars will start again worldwide, and those who have invested in brand management will command the highest fees for their services.

Health care. The entire developed world is aging, and Europe is growing old even faster than America. By 2030, more than 70 million Americans will be over 65. Already 25 per centĀ of the federal budget is spent on health care, and Obama has promised to modernise the bloated industry.

Thirteen of the 20 fastest-growing jobs in the U.S. from 2004 to 2014 are expected to be health care related. Don't run to med school--or turn the page--just yet, though. You can become a registered nurse in just two to three years, on average.

If you're a software engineer, think about getting into automating health care business processes. Health-related work spans the whole supply chain--consulting, banking, equipment, insurance, and more. It can be the gift that keeps on giving, in good economic times and bad. Think about what a broad range of capabilities it really involves.

Globalised knowledge. The credit crisis has inspired a return to regulation; Governments will monitor trade, investment and other points of vulnerability in an all too interconnected world. International law in trade, taxation and immigration will become very hot. So too will talent arbitrage, meaning high-end human resource management to move and manage skilled labor across firms and borders.

Be willing to go where white-collar work is rebounding the fastest. Knowing emerging markets in and out will be a big help. If you're a political scientist or have done a Peace Corps stint or taught English or studied abroad, reconnect with your exotic past to advise firms on security and risk issues in Brazil, Russia, India, China and beyond.

Green capitalism. If you're passionate about recycling, now's your chance to make more than the 5 cents a bottle you can get at the local Food Emporium. Like health care, energy efficiency has moved from niche to mainstream, encompassing engineering, product development, non-profit advocacy, litigation, and a host of other areas. Obama has promised up to 5 million "green-collar" jobs in everything from research and development to solar-cell installation to building re-insulation.

Genomics. A stream of steady breakthroughs will deliver jobs to thousands in health care, pharmaceuticals, genetic counseling and computational biology. Whether or not you've got a scientific or medical background, try to boost your marketability by adding genomic know-how to any expertise you have in software, management or statistics.

Information management. After its employees, a business's most valuable asset is its bits and bytes of data, and that's increasingly true even for bricks-and-mortar companies. Technology is the key to managing the tsunami of information. Strategic information management--data governance, business analytics, knowledge management, information technology infrastructure--are all getting hot as firms seek clarity in complexity. As James Canton claims in his book The Extreme Future: The Top Trends That Will Reshape the World in the Next 20 Years, knowledge networks will be the foundation of our future economy.

Parlez vous? The languages of the future will be very much a function of the rising prosperity and populations of America's trade partners. If you're willing to be a global nomad, immerse yourself beyond your pidgin Chinese, Arabic or French to position yourself as a cross-border relationship manager. If you're using the downturn as an opportunity to enroll in law school, business school or pursue other education, try an intensive language course on the side. It's a great way to network, too.

So, yes, tweet away, but make sure you have more to say about yourself and your skills than will fit into a mere 140 characters.


Ayesha Khanna is a senior adviser at Fitzgerald Analytics, a strategic management consulting firm. She has worked for 10 years on Wall Street on technology governance and strategy initiatives, and is author of Straight Through Processing for Financial Services (Reed Elsevier, 2007).

Ayesha Khanna, Forbes
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