From Career Dissatisfaction to Competence

From Career Dissatisfaction to Competence

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Each of us, in our own way, struggles to keep pace with the consistent introduction of technology-driven inventions. As new tools emerge and technology advances change the very nature of work, technical workers have entered an era in which radical job change has become a way of life. Increasingly, this is requiring retraining and occupational mobility.

Perhaps futurist Karl Fisch in John F. McMullen’s article “As Technology Changes, How to Avoid Becoming Obsolete,” Techopedia, 11 September 2017, best depicted the speed at which technology is changing when he stated that “for students starting a four-year technical degree…half of what they learned in their first year of study will be outdated by their third year of study.”

Pat McLagan, in her book Unstoppable You, compared how we learn to different versions of software. Like all software, learning requires upgrades to help you adapt when conditions change. According to McLagan, you were born with learning 1.0 and upgraded to learning 2.0 during school years when you followed teachers’ directions. A 3.0 upgrade became necessary when you became a job-holding adult so you could self-manage and integrate information from diverse experiences, relationships and resources. Due to the continuous learning required in our fast-paced 21st century world, we must become 4.0 software learners because 4.0 incorporates the best from all three previous releases.

This means that self-diagnosis and personal reinvention is a must. Reinvention comes in two forms: businesses and people. Businesses must constantly reinvent themselves to remain competitive. People must constantly reinvent themselves to remain job relevant.

Technical knowledge workers are required to innovate in everything they do, whether that be their knowledge, their thinking, their skills, or their competencies. Continuous learning is the only way forward, and is a mandate in updating knowledge and keeping up with new trends.

However, despite this awareness, we have found that it is easy for incumbent employees to become complacent and simply believe that if they fulfill existing job requirements, they are “satisfying their employment commitment.” While this approach used to be sufficient, it no longer is, it and will likely lead to job obsolescence. Others may fail to reinvent themselves quickly enough to avoid workplace displeasure and future job irrelevance.

The authors have discovered that taking the condensed dissatisfaction survey we introduced in our last article can have a profound positive impact on change. In other words, those with the highest dissatisfaction scores are those in the most job jeopardy and in need of change. Related scores reveal how far you have allowed yourself to lapse in your continued learning, as well as how quickly you need to begin to do something about it. Such revelations can trip a major alarm bell and, in turn, lead to swift and positive change. The following example illustrates this point.

One day an engineer from a large defense firm came to us and was devastated that after 25 years on the job, he had been terminated. He asked if we could help him get another job because he hadn’t saved enough money to retire. As we reviewed his career accomplishments and began to prepare his new resume, one thing immediately jumped out at us. For nearly 20 years, his job had been to program in a language that over time had become obsolete. Consequently, he had allowed himself to become job obsolete, because during those 20 years he had failed to recognize the impending obsolescence of his own skillset, and failed to acquire new technical skills that would keep him a viable and productive employee. When his company lost the program, he lost his job. His other skills had not kept pace with technological change – so his entire skill inventory had become irrelevant to the company and, over time, obsolete.

While he readily admitted that he had been “highly dissatisfied” doing the same thing for so many years, and not being included in work with others on challenging projects or team assignments, he nevertheless failed to take ownership of his career and take action to keep his skill current. Ultimately, he failed to see that it was he, himself, who was making his job obsolete by failing to continuously upgrade other skills, including programming language proficiencies. It has been our experience that comparable, although perhaps not as dramatic, examples exist with many incumbent employees.

One thing we do know for certain in today’s rapidly changing world: you are either continually upgrading your skills – OR you are making yourself job irrelevant and obsolete. There is no longer an in-between. This reality is accelerating today with the increasing use and availability of artificial intelligence (AI).

Bottom line? Less-than-sterling scores on your dissatisfaction survey mean that you need to actively begin to develop a self-assessment and personal strategy – now – to transition away from job obsolescence and into job relevancy! So, how do you do this and what do you need to consider in your new pursuit?

To begin, the most important thing is to recognize, both mentally and emotionally, that you will now, by necessity, have two work-force objectives instead of one. The first is to optimize the career you have chosen and the existing job you hold, and the second is to develop a new strategy and plan for continuous learning designed to augment and enhance your current skills.

Since you already have a career, this is not a career development plan. Instead, it is a self-assessment career and job enhancement plan for your own growth and professional development. You plan has to be designed to involve your boss. We suggest that you treat this process and the final product you create with the same care and attention to detail as when you originally prepared and interviewed for your first job.

In the coming paragraphs, we will walk you through the step-by-step process. Steps 1 – 3 focus on an analysis of the internal and external business competitive environment and data gathering as it relates to your current and future role within the company in an effort to identify necessary skill requirements. Step 4 deals with compiling a specific list of skills identified in Steps 1 – 3. Step 5 is focused on identifying the specific actions you need to take to achieve identified skills within a short-, medium- and long-term planned time perspective. Step 6 identifies the importance of each of those actions in enhancing your current job and achieving future company operational and strategic goals. Step 7 identifies potential barriers to achieving those goals. Step 8 identifies the actions you are going to take to reduce and/or eliminate those barriers while achieving your plan. Step 9 focuses on a periodic review of your skill achievement progress with your boss. Step 10 catalogs the successful accomplishment of each skill goal, together with the date you achieved it.

Step 1: Skill proficiency requirements for EXISTING JOB

  1. Identify and list the skills, knowledge and proficiencies that you do not currently possess which are required now or that are anticipated in the near future for your existing job.
  2. Review past performance reviews for insight and perspective. What, specifically, are the skills identified as needing improvement?
  3. Benchmark your job internal and external to your company and get copies of comparable job listings/postings for your position today. List the skills employers are most often seeking. Visit job search sites such as Indeed or SimplyHired for additional insight.
  4. Do you have all the skills and proficiencies being required for your job today, as well as for going “beyond the current job standard”? What don’t you currently possess that is being frequently requested? List them.

Step 2: Skill proficiency requirements for OTHER JOBS AND ROLES

  1. List the skills and proficiencies valued by others in your organization that you do not currently possess. If your business has an Innovation Team or a Research Team, talk with them about what they see as needed skills.
  2. Consider the following: Read new job postings in your company with specific awareness of the skills and proficiencies required; talk with your manager and HR department; find colleagues who have strong skills that you lack; and seek advice from those whose skills or career you admire and respect, including mentors
  3. Identify and list skills and proficiencies being used by others in the next role you are contemplating, including those being used by other companies, including competitors, which you believe would be beneficial for your own learnings.
  4. Review technical literature to identify patterns in the qualifications that employers say they are looking for. Make a list of the most frequently referenced requirements, compare them to your strengths, and choose the most applicable to target in your plan.


  1. Identify where your current company or organization is planning to move strategically and operate in the future.
  2. Identify what technologies and technical skills will be involved/required to successfully achieve those strategies.
  3. Identify the individual skills required to achieve these strategic goals (including non-technical skills).

Step 4: Compile all the information you have collected in Steps 1 – 3 to identify and list needed skills and knowledge for current and future jobs

  1. List the information under one of two categories: (1) Existing Job and (2) Future Job
  2. Under Existing Job, list the most “critical skills” that can be achieved by you to “re-gain” job competence and standards within one year (short-term). Note: Critical Existing Job needs should always be treated as top priority.
  3. Under Existing Job, list the skills important for job improvement/ achievable growth within two years (medium-term).
  4. Under Future Job, list the skills necessary to achieve career goals and focus for your perceived next position over the next three to five years (long-term).
  5. In addition to strictly technical learning, consider “soft learning,” such as interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence, group dynamics, leadership, working in teams, communication, time management, client relations, and people management skills. List those you believe are applicable under Existing or Future Job.
  6. Remember to list the required skills and knowledge necessary to align with your organization’s future strategic directions.
  7. Be as specific as possible when compiling skill and knowledge requirements.

Step 5: Identify specific development actions to achieve the skill goals you articulated, together with completion dates

  1. Once you have identified the total skill set you plan to acquire, develop specific action plans to strengthen or acquire those most in-demand/critical skills for your Existing Job in years one and two. Again, Existing Job enhancement is your top development priority.
  2. Do the same for your Future Job years three to five.
  3. Include specific completion dates.
  4. Consider some of the following as potential development actions to meet your skill acquisition goals, whether for your existing job or future job:
    • Utilize IEEE resources
    • become certified in additional computer language(s) and/or tool(s)
    • attend a technology workshop
    • participate in online tutorials offered by software providers and third-party groups
    • enroll in online classes, seminars or boot camps held evenings or weekends
    • attend professional association meetings or development workshops, other distance-learning venues, including podcasts, traditional correspondence courses and telecourses in which you watch broadcasts or videos in “real time”
    • private teachers or tutoring
    • national or professional associations with a website referencing information on developments in the field
    • subscribe to technical journals
    • read professional books, research papers, articles or trade press
    • attend industry events, conferences, e-newsletters and online forums
  5. Formal education, such as an advanced engineering degree, PMP certification, or MBA should also be a consideration. Massive open online courses (MOOCs) offer many courses from top-tier universities.
  6. An additional form of learning development and one of our favorite is what we call “Reverse Mentoring.” This is a process where you develop a strong relationship with a younger technical worker who provides mutual coaching and support. Each teaches a subject area to the other where a strong proficiency already exists. For example, you may offer a younger employee tips on team building or client relations, while he or she helps you boost your computer skills in areas where you are weak, or helps you understand the latest cutting-edge trends in technology.
  7. Obviously, there will be opportunities for both formal and informal learning, such as joining book groups, learning communities and blogs.
  8. Finally, you should consider on-the-job learning opportunities, such as training presentations to others in your areas of expertise, volunteering to participate in multi-disciplinary teams, or helping with special project assignments needed by your department to achieve company goals. Obviously, this section can benefit from discussions with your boss and must nevertheless be approved by your manager.

Step 6: Rate the importance of each of the identified goals and how they will enhance job performance in your existing job, while also positioning yourself to meet longer-term strategic department/company goals more effectively

Step 7: Identify the potential barriers & required resources (i.e. time, money, family) to achieving your identified short-, medium- and long-term goals

Step 8: Identify solutions to how you will circumvent/reduce the barriers you identified in Step 7 and still succeed at achieving your goals

  1. Find short-term or time-limited options to pursue longer-term objectives. An example would be taking a part-time master’s degree in technology or an MBA, instead of full-time participation.
  2. Consider how you will plan to balance your job/ career needs and lifestyle needs.
  3. Determine how much time you are willing to invest in your job and career enhancement, while simultaneously spending the time required for success in your current role. These considerations should include realistic resolutions to the identified barriers, and include a balance between your career needs and your lifestyle needs.
  4. Identify skill areas you want to acquire but are not able to pursue at present due to identified constraints (e.g., money).
  5. Discuss your ideas with your manager to determine if the company has resources that could be provided as assistance.

Note: It is very important that you have already identified how you plan to resolve many of the identified barriers when you meet with your boss, as this demonstrates that you are serious in your job and career enhancement efforts

Step 9: Review the status of your achievements

  1. The Achievement Status Updates category identifies how you plan to measure your progress toward meeting identified enhancement goals
  2. We recommend that you and your manager review your plan at least every six months (Note: It is very important that your manager is able to easily ascertain that you are serious in your plan and are successfully achieving identified milestones on a frequent basis, while enhancing your job skills.)

Step 10: Dates of Completion

  1. Goals are more motivating when you track accomplishments. This is the step in which you declare that you have successfully achieved one or more of the goals you identified, along with the date of accomplishment. Don’t wait until the biggest goals are completed or until all are achieved to recognize your progress.
  2. Reward yourself for a job well done. Regardless of whether you reward yourself with an extra dessert, a special dinner, or a special purchase, it is important that you take the time and occasion to acknowledge accomplishments. Why? Because you have taken another major step toward ensuring job relevance and growth success for yourself in our rapidly changing 21st century – and you need to congratulation yourself for this accomplishment!

This is a skill enhancement plan designed for your manager to appreciate and respect. We have deliberately designed it in such a manner as to illustrate to your boss that you have stepped up and voluntarily accepted personal initiative and responsibility for your own Job and Career Enhancement – with his or her support. You have not only shown initiative, but have also gone about seriously diagnosing and assessing your own skill/weakness inventory, what action you believe you need to take to better perform in your existing job, and how you can better position yourself to assist your department and company strategically in the future (while helping your manager in the process).

The plan template has been specifically designed to have you take charge of your own development and to initiate a plan of action that your manager will likely positively subscribe to and support. It has been our experience that when a plan such as this is developed and discussed with your manager, at planned intervals deliberately identified for discussion surrounding Achievement Status Updates, it is difficult for the manager to oppose such thoughtful initiative on the part of an employee. Further, we have found that your boss may applaud the fact since you have taken the personal initiative to propose how you can do an even better job in your existing position, as well as in the future for the company. Finally, we have found that many times, when managers discover that incumbent employees are serious about successfully achieving identified career and job enhancement plan goals, he or she will often spend extra time helping them achieve their plans by reducing and/or eliminating certain identified barriers, such as time and money.

In future articles, we will explore how to deal with finding both success and fulfillment in your employment.

Richard A. Feller, MBA, Ph.D., has personally reinvented himself several times.  He began in academia, first as a faculty member, then dean at a comprehensive technical and liberal arts two-year institution that was later identified as a national model by the U.S. Department of Education.  From here, he joined a Fortune 50 company with responsibility for the executive, managerial, and technical education for 7,000 employees; quickly followed by his transition to a corporate level executive position responsible for change management, strategic and succession planning for global electronics technology at the Fortune 50 Company.  Following this experience, responsible for enterprise wide change, he teamed with the CEO of a Fortune 200 semiconductor business in Silicon Valley, and assisted the organization to transition from a $500m loss and near bankruptcy to being recognized as the Turnaround Company of the Year.  Next, as the CEO of a software company, he crafted the turnaround of the technological organization into a global force.  Next, he was the CEO of a business which specialized in the design and build of multi-million dollar, single family, certified green technology “smart” homes in the Washington, D.C. area.  He is currently the CEO of Future Job, Inc., a company specializing in technology talent and jobs, especially with the utilization of IT apprenticeships.

Peggy G. Hutcheson, Ph.D., has reinvented herself from being a working journalist, to corporate manager, and then entrepreneur and academic.  Dr. Hutcheson is best known for her expertise in connecting employees to changing work roles through organizational and individual career development.  In her work she consults, trains and manages large and small client projects for businesses, non-profits and government agencies.  She has published numerous articles, e-books and essays on career development topics including Restoring Career Development:  Developing and Managing Talent, and many others.  She is currently on the faculty at Kennesaw State University.  Dr. Hutcheson has served in a number of volunteer roles in IEEE-USA.  Currently she is a member of the IEEE-USA Communications Committee and the IEEE-USA Employment and Career Services Committee, where she is a past committee chair.













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