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THE SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA JOB MARKET: LOOKING FOR LIGHT : Safeguarding a Career : Workers at Risk Must Be Prepared to Make a Change

September 20, 1993|Stuart Silverstein | Times staff writer

More than two years after the nationwide recession was officially declared ended, the flood of major layoffs keeps on flowing.

In recent months, even solidly profitable employers have been announcing sharp staff cuts to prepare for what they believe will be rising global competition in the years just ahead. Among them are corporate behemoths such as Procter & Gamble, General Electric and Ameritech Corp.

Through August, layoffs announced by non-government employers averaged roughly 50,000 a month in 1993, up more than 4,000 a month from recession-plagued 1991.

Amid the continuing cuts, jobs with major employers that in the past offered the best of benefits and job security have become increasingly imperiled.

To protect themselves, middle managers and others need to prepare themselves to jump into new careers and industries with brighter futures, said William Charland, who focuses on continuing-education issues as a senior fellow at the Center for the New West, a Denver think tank.

Times staff writer Stuart Silverstein recently interviewed Charland about what steps people can take to safeguard their careers and earning power at a time when much of the American workplace seems to be in tumult. Charland is the author of four books, the most recent of which is "Career Shifting: Starting Over in a Changing Economy."

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Question: Whose careers are at risk in today's workplace?

Answer: Anyone in a large organization--especially someone in a middle-tier management position or anyone who is in a highly specialized role in a large corporate organization--really ought to pay attention to their job status and have an eye open to options. We're going through an economic revolution, and we're in transition from an economy that is based on large, pyramid-shaped structures like corporations.

We're moving toward an economy that's based on diamond-shaped organizations. Most of the jobs are for service providers, and there's very little clerical support on the bottom and very few jobs for full-time managers at the top. I typically find that in these organizations, no more than 5% of the staff is involved in clerical, custodial or support functions and probably no more than 5% to 8% of the staff is in full-time management. Almost everybody in the middle is directly involved in creating a product or delivering a service.

Q: How do you decide what new career to embark on if there are obvious signs of trouble ahead in your job?

A: Stay as close as possible to your own experience. You might consider taking an aptitude test at a community college or a private firm. For people who have too many aptitudes for their own good, I like the testing provided by the Johnson O'Connor Research Foundation. For most of the rest of us, there's a simple exercise that I have used a lot with clients: Start by drawing two lines down a sheet of paper, creating three columns. Label the first column "Tasks," the second column "Skills" and the third column "Traits." Then go, step by step, through your current job and the other significant jobs you've had, and imagine you are hiring someone to take your place.

First, in the Tasks column, write down what people would have to do if they were to replace you. In the Skills column, include what skills and knowledge are required to do each of those tasks.

Under Traits, list the kinds of personality traits that would enable a person to use those skills well. Then draw a line through everything you have done or can do but don't want to do anymore, and note what remains. What is it about your work experience that still feels important?

It's awfully important for people to do that kind of self-assessment now and then. From that, people can put together resumes summarizing the skills that they want to carry on, rather than present their backgrounds in terms of the chronology of jobs they've held. That kind of information also enables you to communicate with people in other fields who may not understand the job titles you've held but who can understand the skills you've developed.

Q: What else should you consider before deciding what industry or job to go into?

A: People should balance their personal interests against the types of job opportunities that will be available. While you don't want to wander too far from your interests, I think we've overblown the notion that if you do what you love, the money will follow. This is a much more constricted economy, and dream jobs aren't so easy to come by.

On the other hand, you don't want to encourage somebody to go into a field such as critical care nursing just because the money is good. . . .

It's very easy to tick off a number of hot areas, such as health care, computers and telecommunications. The demand for teachers will soar when the baby boomlet hits.

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