Acquiring new skills - how can I add more value?
February 2, 2012 4:51 AM   Subscribe

What skills can I acquire that will make me more valuable and more hire-able in the years to come? The world is getting tougher and I want to make sure I always have a job - hopefully, an interesting one.

I'm in my mid-30s and have been considering a career change but also thinking of acquiring some new skills piece by piece, to make myself more valuable in a concrete way. What skills/pieces of knowledge can I acquire (by taking a couple of classes or reading a few books) that will increase my value exponentially? HTML, Spanish? Farming? Shop class?

I want to be someone who adds value in real ways. What skills can help me do that?

Assume I suck at math and am incredibly disorganized.
posted by bunderful to Work & Money (12 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
Skilled trades like plumbing, hvac, electrical, etc. should stand you in good stead over time. That is, they should always be in-demand to one degree or another. The work must meet some serious safety codes and it can't be offshored or automated. The pay may not be great, depending on your locale, but there should be work to be had.

Thing is, your age puts you on the far end of the age range for new entries into those fields. You will be competing with late teens and 20-somethings for entry positions.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:01 AM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Healthcare skills will always be in demand - nursing, for example, is a field where you could earn an LPN/RN/NP degree (depending upon aptitude and desire to be in school) in a few years, and ensure some ability to see and treat patients regardless of where you live.
posted by ellF at 5:16 AM on February 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

Learn Mandarin.
posted by crunchland at 5:39 AM on February 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

Assume I suck at math and am incredibly disorganized.

That's actually going to be a problem for you, because many career building skills require some sort of skill in both. Maybe not calculus, but you darn well better know how to look at data and come to an orderly conclusion. This is true in the corporate world from mailroom to CEO. If you don't have these skills, your career may come full stop a level or two below where you want to be....

So, based on my own hard-earned experience in being a bit like you, read a couple good primers on macro and micro economics, and learn Excel.
posted by lstanley at 5:51 AM on February 2, 2012

If you could provide more information about what you are currently doing and where you are inclined to make the career change, as you provide precious little to go on and any advice here may well be far off the mark.

While I woldn't consider the mid-30's to be 'too late' (as I was in my mid-30's when I made the third and fourth career role changes), it was imperative that it combined elements of my prior roles, building on the experiences to add more value to the next role. (To be more clear: I went from teaching, then research, into a technical support position, where I used the teaching and research skills in a new context.)

But looking at the bigger trends, and how the nature of work has changed significantly in the past 40 years or so, as well as my own career trajectory / work history (I've had no less than five career roles in three industries), I would offer that 'adding more value' means 'being on the revenue-generating side of a business / industry'.

Sales is an obvious one - in any economy if one can sell to customers, one is always employ-able and incredibly valuable. Marketing is closely related, but I've observed more volatile, depending on the kind of marketing function. Friends who were global product managers / market managers in my industry had to face relocation after unexpected layoffs etc. - that being said they still found excellent jobs in a relatively brief period of time, as companies are looking for experienced marketing professionals with a track-record of growing business segments.

Computer science in its various forms is another obvious one. Programming skills, database management etc., but if you 'suck at math' and are 'incredibly disorganized' it is clear that that would not be for you, but I throw it out there anyway: these are valuable and needed skills, and you want to be employable for the far-term future, so there you go.

This study from Georgetown is food for thought. Art and architecture for recent graduates have poor job prospects now, and this situation may not change for many more years.
posted by scooterdog at 5:54 AM on February 2, 2012

The more you know about computers, the more valuable you will be at any job. If you are a great employee and the only one who can re-boot the system then your job is secure.
posted by myselfasme at 6:02 AM on February 2, 2012

I guess I should have provided more info.

I do kick ass at excel and can crunch numbers as long as I have the tools. And I'm probably being a little hard on myself in the organization front. I don't have color coded binders for every project, but I can *create* an organized system for someone else - maintaining it for myself is where I fail.

In college I was focused on humanities, and my primary areas of interest are things like libraries, music, etc. - i.e., artsy areas with poor job outlook.

I don't need to be CEO or make an insane amount of money, I just always want to be able to add value.
posted by bunderful at 6:13 AM on February 2, 2012

Have you ever managed other people? You can get experience in management in volunteer projects and those skills do transfer (not 100%, but substantially) to the workplace.
posted by brainwane at 7:12 AM on February 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

It is unclear what you do now. You may want a clean break into something else, but practically speaking the next thing you do is often closely tied to what you are doing now. Elaborate on what you do now and what you enjoy doing and someone may have suggestions.
posted by dgran at 7:14 AM on February 2, 2012

Are you a good writer? Writing skills have been pivotal for every job I've had. I went from being a copyeditor and translator to editorial writer to technical writer to... software test consultant. My BA is in French (from a US university) and my Masters degree is in comparative literature (from a French university). So, humanities all the way. I also studied music performance.

Have you looked into software testing? It involves a lot of writing, as well as the ability to read well – you need to be able to understand functional and technical specifications, as well as have a sort of "twisted spark of genius" that allows you to pinpoint where things may (or even will) go bad... and then write tests based on the specs. I enjoy it because I get to use my reading skills, playfully devious side ("this is going to crash the app MUHAHAHA"), writing skills, and communication skills (asking developers and users questions), and I get to break things to help improve them! Wheee! Then, because it's far enough away from my true expressive loves, I get to go home and forget about it until the next day, but still remembering that, hey, my job is enjoyable enough that I like getting up early for work.

If you've done a lot of music performance in groups, you'd be surprised how far that teamwork and organic leadership experience goes. My music experiences have been another pivotal point in all the work I've done, and gosh I wish more school administrators realized just how amazing music is for learning management skills. (I supervise teams and coordinate projects; currently I'm an "expert" so enjoy a position that fits my personality well: a sort of independent consultant who works with teams, supervises parts of things, and coordinates with managers.) As an instrumentalist in a group, you are essentially the "manager" of your instrument. You have to know how, when, where, and why your part fits in with others. That sort of experience puts you years ahead of others who haven't had it. Sports comes close, but often it lacks the zen attitude cultivated by musical groups. There can be dozens of people at the top of their game in an orchestra... and it creates incredible music. In sports, there can be dozens of people at the top of their game... and only one winner (individual or team). I loved playing baseball, but I really LOVED improvising with people who knew their instruments in and out and upside down and with the wrong mouthpieces even.

You do need to be a good organizer in software testing, but there are tools to help with that. You'd kind of need to get a foot in the door to do that, though, since the most widely-used tool is seriously expensive. Maybe start with technical writing, if that floats your boat. Definitely a versatile skill, as it also involves reading comprehension (specs, again), communication (devs and users, again), and overall, getting to know the business of what you're writing for/about.

TL;DR, it does come down to knowing what you're good at AND enjoy (you can be good at something and not enjoy it, that's fine, if you can, try to avoid stuff that bores you to tears, even though all jobs will have parts like that), so that you can find tangents from there.
posted by fraula at 7:18 AM on February 2, 2012 [8 favorites]

Try flipping through this occupational outlook handbook and see if anything pops out at you. For a variety of jobs, it lists:

* the training and education needed
* earnings
* expected job prospects
* what workers do on the job
* working conditions

It's a pretty good resource.
posted by aniola at 9:10 AM on February 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

You've mentioned Excel already; I think good excel skills and fluent Spanish or Mandarin would be the way to self-help-book your way to better positions.
posted by craven_morhead at 12:23 PM on February 2, 2012

« Older "Common name" spyware won't get gone   |   My iPhone needs some SIM card double penetration. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.