By Walt Boyes, Editor in Chief
The house of cards fell down in 2008, and since then, we seem to have been mired in the muck. First it was the bailouts. Then it was the housing mess. Then it seemed things were looking up. Then the chain of near defaults in Europe began, and now we're looking at what is beginning to feel like a permanent recession.
What does a permanent recession feel like? Well, it feels like your savings and investments are disappearing at a quickening clip. It feels like your job is jittery, and it might go away any day. One day you'll show up at work, and they'll be waiting to escort you to HR, payroll and then back out the door. There's no security, and by the time the politicians of either stripe get done with it, there's probably not going to be any Social Security either.
So, what do you do?
First, you should do some obvious things. If you are younger and still paying off student loans, get them paid off. If you are older and have consumer debt, get it paid off quickly. Keep a credit card or two, but pay them off. If you have too much consumer debt to pay off, bankruptcy is a viable option, especially if you are also underwater on your mortgage.
Don't spend more than you make. If you're paying for your children's tuition at college, see if you can get a low, fixed-rate student loan instead of paying cash. With the inflation that is certain to come over the next decade, you will be paying it back with cheaper dollars.
About your career and professional life, Norm Gilsdorf, CEO of Honeywell, in a speech given when he received the "Outstanding Chemical Engineer" award from his alma mater, Purdue University, said something timely and important to anyone with a desire to work in our profession—and not just as a chemical engineer.
"My chemical engineering degree sent me to places around the globe, gave me the opportunity to learn new languages, and helped me understand different cultures, while interacting with business and government leaders in more than 70 countries," Gilsdorf said. "After 30 years in business, what excites me every day is the thought that not only can I make a real difference around me, but I can do so on every continent. I'm a strong believer in the positive impact technology can have on our future, and I want students to know that engineering is a path of innovation and one of the ways we can make a real difference as to how we use our energy sources."
Automation professionals can use Gilsdorf's statement as a mantra. But the title of Gilsdorf's speech is a cautionary one: "Have Chemical Engineering Degree—Will Travel." The days of working for the same company and for the same plant for 40 years are long gone. Like the master masons of the Middle Ages, we've become itinerant and highly paid professionals, and we have to be ready to move where the action is and the jobs are.
As the world gets smaller, the necessity to move may become less due to innovation in technology for remote control systems and improvements in Internet conferencing technology. But as Gilsdorf noted, there's no substitute for actually going there.
Lastly, stop depending on your employer to pay for training and new expertise. They can hire really good expertise when they need it and don't have to pay for the training. You need to plan your continuing education. If you are a degreed engineer, it would be a good idea to take an MBA, whether your company will pay for it or not. That way you, like Gilsdorf, can continue to enlarge the scope of skills and activities that employers will pay you for.
Remember, "He who dies with the most skilz wins!"