Doing with Less or Happy Thanksgiving!

Oct. 28, 2010
Your Skills Are Yours. They Go Where You Go. Time Was, "He Who Dies With the Most Toys Wins." Now "He Who Has the Most Skills Wins"
By Walt Boyes, Editor in Chief

The good news is that the recession is over. The bad news is that the growth curve is barely off zero, and it is going to be several years before we're back to where we were before the greedmongers brought the economy to a crashing halt. "I said ‘Greed is good,' but I didn't know they were going to make it legal!" says Michael Douglas, reprising his role as Gordon Gekko in the movie Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.

For all the rest of us, we need to try to get through the next four or five years with jobs and savings more or less intact and with retirement plans more or less on track. Yeah. That's going to be easy.

Let's break it down. If you're in the 55 to 65 age group, as I am, you're probably going to have to work past 65, maybe long past. If you like what you're doing, that works out fine. If you're just hanging on until retirement, you might want to try on that blue vest with the orange piping.

Even at our ages, there are things we can do to make ourselves more marketable, so we don't get let go in a "resizing" that is actually getting rid of the older, higher paid workers. Keep up. Read the journals. Attend seminars and webinars. Join Facebook and LinkedIn professional groups for automation professionals. Make an effort to pass your knowledge along to younger workers and be seen by your management doing so. It will make you more valuable in their eyes, and if they do lay you off, it may get you brought back as a $250-an-hour consultant.

If you are in the early part or the middle of your career, much the same advice applies, just more so. I've written before about the letter I received from a recently laid-off engineer who had spent 37 years with the same company doing basically the same job. His skills were 37 years old, and he had no resume. It's that blue vest again.
Your skills are yours. They belong to you and they go with you wherever you go. Time was, "He who dies with the most toys wins." Now it is, "He who has the most skills wins."

As automation professionals, we should have the largest skill set in all of manufacturing. You think that's bunk? Well, take a look at what we know, and what we're expected to know. ISA developed a profile of the automation worker for the U.S. Department of Labor a few years ago, and I reprinted it in my book, The Instrumentation Reference Book, 4th Edition. See also

You work all week, and the last thing you want to do is to study and read technical stuff on evenings and weekends. You have a family. You have a life. Well, make time during your work day to expand your skills. Campaign with your management to make that essential. If they won't help you, consider going where management will. Remember, there is very little loyalty left, and you shouldn't have any qualms about going somewhere better.

Above all, differentiate yourself as an automation professional by knowing as much as you can about the business of the company you work for, or you are doomed to be in the same job forever. Engineers' salaries typically top out at about 40 years old, while managers' salaries keep going up. Why? Because managers are worth more to CEOs than engineers are. Yes, I know that's wrong. So?

If you want more respect as an engineer, you have to get the attention of the suits on the top floor. That means being able to talk to them about how your job directly affects their bottom line. It might not be the job you signed on for in engineering school, but it's the one you'll need to master now if you want any job at all. Meanwhile, be thankful for the job you do have. Happy Thanksgiving!

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