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by Bob Skladany, AARP, June 15, 2009
Where did my career go?
During the past year or so, the economy has taken a toll on occupations that used to employ large numbers of age 50+ people. Some industrial sectors may come back in time, while others may not experience a significant recovery during our working lifetimes.
Even if you haven’t lost your job, there is the possibility that you’ll have to look for a new occupation before you retire—if you’re ever able to retire. You may have a lifetime of excellent work experience in an industry or occupation that no longer exists or offers few opportunities for employment. If you’re in this situation, it’s time to take inventory of something of immense value to you and potential employers: your transferable skills, capabilities, and knowledge.
Transferable Skills: Your Ticket to a New Job
If you’ve spent a lifetime on one career path, it can be difficult to recognize the skills, capabilities, and knowledge you’ve gathered along the way. The first step in launching your job search is to identify your most valuable transferable skills. Sometimes you’re so wrapped up in your job that you’ve lost sight of what your transferable skills are.
You may also feel that your experience and skills aren’t valuable any longer. If you think so, it’s time to think outside of your career box and take inventory of your transferable skills and employment options.
Let’s look at a number of industries and the most valuable skills needed in each of these fields:
Retail – On the surface, working in retail as a stockkeeper, cashier, or supervisor seem very simple and not like occupations that yield valuable skills. Think again. Working in retail requires effective interpersonal and communication skills; customer service and problem-solving skills; planning and organizational abilities; computer skills; math and analytical abilities; creative talent for displays and product presentation; and solid selling ability. Your supervisory skills are transferable to any number of jobs. You may also have developed extensive knowledge about specific products, such as home furnishings, and that information may be applicable in another occupation, such as home decorator. Keep in mind that retailers will begin hiring at the early phase of an economic recovery.
General Manufacturing – At first glance, working in a manufacturing plant may not appear to yield a variety of transferable skills. But even looking at the work from an outsider’s view, you’ll see that industrial jobs give you many transferable talents, including quality monitoring and evaluation; computer skills; the ability to read and analyze production orders and specifications; time-management and organizational skills; technical trade and skilled-labor abilities; teamwork; and product-specific knowledge. Technical, trades, and other specialized manufacturing jobs yield equipment-maintenance, production-planning, and supervisory skills. till, the permanent decline in the number of manufacturing jobs resulting from the shrinkage of entire industries, such as the auto sector, is cause for concern. If your skills are highly specific to one product or industry, you may need extensive training in a new trade or occupation.
Construction – When the mortgage and credit markets collapsed, residential and construction jobs disappeared almost immediately. The Federal government goal is for public spending on infrastructure and “green” projects to absorb many workers previously employed in construction. Yet a career in construction still yields transferable skills that may lead to new occupations, including computer skills; purchasing and materials management; project costing and planning; drafting; computer-aided design; and transportation and logistics. People involved with unskilled construction jobs or manual labor will have the fewest transferable skills.
Real Estate Sales – Fewer homes being built and sold means fewer jobs in real estate sales. The transferable skills that employers in other fields value include lead generation for sales; interpersonal and communication skills; telemarketing; customer service; big-ticket sales of consumer goods (anything from furs to jewelry to boats and luxury watches); client relations; and marketing communications.
Banking and Finance – Transferable skills include mathematical and analytical, computer applications, financial analysis, and general accounting and bookkeeping skills. Knowledge of personal financial counseling and planning, credit and collections, and processing electronic transactions also make you an attractive candidate for careers outside finance. Finally, customer relations and communication skills prepare you for work in many fields.
Human Services and Not-for-Profit – The recession has also caused many nonprofits to cut jobs in human services and advocacy. Still, the skills gained in these areas can be transferred to other industries and occupations. Interpersonal and communication skills are fundamental to many caregiving occupations, including personal home care. Knowledge of public and private benefit programs can help you perform “individual service” occupations in government and education. The Social Security Administration and Veterans Administration, for example, offer many jobs suited to the skills you may have acquired in human service and not-for-profit organizations and occupations. You may also bring more general skills to the table, including finance and budgeting, accounting, project management, and general administrative supervision.
General Administrative – The combination of the recession, outsourcing of administration and support jobs, and increasing computer automation has produced significant job loss in administration. Nonetheless, many occupations demand organization and planning, customer relations, communication, budgeting and finance, computer, and project management skills.
What Gets You Hired: Experience or Skill Set?
A big part of getting the greatest value from your transferable or marketable skills and capabilities is to stop viewing yourself as “being” a specific job or occupation.
“I’m a school principal. What else can I do if there are no schools in need of a principal?” Don’t get caught in this rut. School principals have to be good administrators, educators, communicators and negotiators, finance managers, facility managers, and supervisors. Why not consider a training-level management job in a commercial setting? It may not be an elementary school, but managing a workplace often requires the same skills.
Get a pad and pencil and start listing your transferable capabilities and knowledge (some features of your skill set may come from family life or volunteering). Then ask yourself what other industries and occupations could use those competencies. Emphasize your marketable skills in job applications and résumés. Sell what you can do, not what you’ve been.
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