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Labor Secretary Offers 5-Point Plan for Workers

Jobs: He advises employees to be computer-literate and to keep skills current.


Call them Robert's Rules--the five things you need to know to find and hold a job.

With an estimated 3.2 million high school and college students having graduated in the last few months, Labor Secretary Robert Reich has issued five basic rules for new graduates to help them find work and keep up with the workplace of the future. They are:

* Born to be wired. Whether you work in an office or manage the crew that cleans it, you've got to be computer-literate. Even truck driving and factory work require some computer skills. If you don't have them, get them. Now.

* Get an edge, keep it sharp. Education may provide some competitive edge today, but workers need to keep honing that edge for a future payoff. Simple maxim: What you earn depends on what you learn.

* Ditch the ladder, spin the web. Think of a career less as a ladder and more like a web; webs have a center but no top and a lot of paths that connect. Forget the climb--smart workers move along webs, earning more from skills they have gained, not seniority. Unlike ladders, webs often dissolve when their purpose is fulfilled.

* Networking Works. The best way to hone your skills and widen your web is by networking, not just swapping information about job openings. Actively connect with people throughout your industry and profession. Keep current. Information is the key to the future in any field.

* There is no 'i' in "team." More and more people will work in teams. Teammates at work may know each other only by phone, fax or Internet address. And teams will include more women and people of color than any generation in history. Learn to play all positions.

Reich said of the new working world: "The whole notion of a career path is an antiquated idea. There are few careers, let alone paths. Today most people find that they spiral from job to job, sometimes in the same company, sometimes between companies. They stay within a general field of competence, but generally that field has no sharp borders."

And in that world, he said, "computers are important."

But he cautioned against the notion that everyone must become "a computer wizard" to prosper in the work force. "The real issue," Reich said, "is one of comfort: Are you able to adapt to the next word-processing program or able to learn new programs? Do you regard a computer the way you would regard any other piece of office machinery, or is it still shrouded in some form of mystery?"

Another piece often missing from the job puzzle for new graduates, according to Reich, is teamwork skill. "They often don't know how to work in groups," he said.

Reich said this is particularly true of college graduates, who often complain that they are not getting the jobs for which they feel they are qualified. He noted that the academic world is geared to reward individual performance, and many students find it hard to make the transition to a workplace that emphasizes teamwork.

"Young people often don't know how to work in groups. They've got to increasingly develop skills that involve sharing responsibility, respecting the knowledge of others and utilizing that knowledge," Reich said.

Another problem for new college graduates, according to Reich, is that "they don't know as much as they think they know." And in today's workplace, that means they probably are going to have to spend from three to five years working at jobs they feel are below their skills.

Reich said the new generation of job-seekers often faces a different world from that of their parents, which may lead to conflicting advice.

"The demands on workers today are very different from the past," he said. "The old message was that you've got to have a vocation, a skill. The new message is that you have to have learning skills so that wherever you may be, you can quickly assimilate information--you have to be a self-starter."

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