Emerging industries and markets as a career choice

Wes Bucey

Prophet of Profit
Throughout the last six years (the Recession), whenever I make one of my freebie presentations on efficient and successful job hunting [or job keeping], one question always arises:
"How can I protect myself when my whole industry (not just MY company) starts to shrink or become obsolete?"

We're not just talking buggy whips here. Even when I was a young man just out of college in the 60s, Western Electric (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hawthorne_Works) was the primary manufacturer of ALL telephones in the USA, as well as a place that figured prominently in the careers of Shewhart, Deming, and Juran. Juran once called it "the seed bed of the Quality Revolution." The managers of the company were not dinosaurs or mean-spirited souls. They tried to be progressive and maintain a happy workplace for 45,000 people at one single location. Alas, all that remains is one historic tower in the corner of a huge shopping center complex. I still choke up a bit every time I pass the intersection. With the loss of the company and its thousands of well-paying jobs, the entire neighborhood has descended into an armpit of poverty and corruption. With the collapse of Western Electric, a cascading effect similarly collapsed the companies in its supply chain and their communities, too, suffered similar ravages to Cicero, Illinois.

So, it's a sad story. How do you keep yourself from getting entangled in some similar collapse?

First and foremost, it helps to incorporate Deming's System of Profound Knowledge (SoPK) into your life. You need to become cognizant of the big picture AND how all the parts work together. Those parts include things and events both internal and external to your company and its direct supply chain (both upstream and downstream) and how those things and events can and might affect your employer and, most especially, how they will impact YOU.

You need to spread your quest for Knowledge far and wide; to stay alert to new opportunities as well as be alert for impending collapse of status quo. It is a tired and trite truism that the only constant in life is change.

An important part of SoPK thinking is to look at each piece of information which comes into your field of view and make a preliminary dissection of it, asking and trying to answer such questions as:
  1. does this directly affect me, my family, my community, my company or industry, my country?
  2. How might it affect indirectly?
  3. Is this something I need or want to know more about?
  4. Is there an opportunity here for me to improve my current or future situation?
At first, it may seem a burden, just like little kids in school who whine, "Why do I need to know this? I've got Google!"

After a while, though, it becomes second nature and the basis for your own personal SoPK.

Some of you readers may be asking yourself, "What triggered Wes to write this screed on a beautiful July Saturday instead of sitting out on his deck, sipping Sangria and watching local wildlife?"

Fact is, I am on the deck, sipping Sangria, but I've been going through my email, too, and one of my industry newsletters led me to this link,

(broken link removed)

I have been fascinated with 3D printing ever since I saw the system at a trade show a number of years back and saw Star Trek replicators in real life. Even back then, I foresaw that the technique would progress from flimsy plastic materials to sturdier materials which could actually be used as working devices, not just 3D models.

Investing in the 3D printing device manufacturing companies back then might have been a personal disaster, since the stock market has not treated some individual companies kindly, some even losing value since their original IPOs. Many industries, however, have had similar vision to mine (I am by no means the only guy in the world practicing SoPK) and have encouraged the 3D printing industry (if not individual companies) to expand the range of materials to biological tissue, exotic plastic mixtures, and metals.

So my parting bit of advice on this fine Saturday is for you, my reader, to look at this one emerging industry and ask your self the four questions and work out some answers for yourself.
  1. does this directly affect me, my family, my community, my company or industry, my country directly?
  2. How might it affect indirectly?
  3. Is this something I need or want to know more about?
  4. Is there an opportunity here for me to improve my current or future situation?
Look at these two photos and their captions and let your brain juices begin to flow.
(left thumbnail)
The curved lines of the "liquid lattice" structures firm Within designed for an automotive load-bearing steel engine block using EOS' direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) process somewhat resemble the lines of Arup's 3D-printed steel node, which was also made with Within's design help.
(Source: Within)

AND

(right thumbnail)
Structural engineers at UK-based building design firm Arup have come up with a design method for 3D printing structural steel elements to be used in construction projects. The steel node shown here is the first component to be produced using the new method.

(Source: Arup)
 

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Ronen E

Problem Solver
Moderator
Hi,

In my opinion the strategy described above is no longer feasible to implement, no matter how inquisitive, diligent, proactive, patient (and so on) one is. There is simply too much information and too many unknowns to handle. The economists recurring failures to consistently predict trends (but the obvious ones), over the last 6 years, demonstrate that.

My opinion is that since the only thing we can be sure about is change, the single most important career-supporting ability is the ability to be flexible and adapt quickly and drastically (i.e. not only being able to move companies, but also to move industries and even professions). This also includes the ability to market oneself to a potential employer / partner / client, in a field where one has no direct recorded experience. How to do that? Good question.

I predict that in 25-50 years everyone will be very mobile throughout their career, it will become the norm and no major effort will be required for convincing the hiring party of one's ability "to dive in" and quickly master the field. It will simply be taken as a given, almost like today no one is being asked "can you use the Internet?"; because it's trivial that they can. The big challenge will be for the transition generation, who will bear the price of market conversion.

Cheers,
Ronen.
 

Wes Bucey

Prophet of Profit
I agree on the mobility aspect. Of folks I know in jobs where they earn hourly wages (versus weekly or monthly salaries), more than half are working as "contractors" either independently or through services like Manpower. It is rare for any of them to stay a full year at any single location, but some have had assignments last 2 or 3 years. Most of these contractors work at locations within "reasonable" commuting distances from their homes or take temporary employment away from a home base, but a sizable minority uproot their families every couple of years to relocate in another city or state. Such a work/life style would have seemed intolerable 50 years ago, but today, folks shrug it off as "normal."

In regard to "information overload," my point was NOT to do intensive research on EVERY bit of data which comes into view but to make a preliminary decision based on the four questions whether it "might" be fruitful to research further.

For example, I have an active, abiding interest in 3D printing technology from two points of view:

  1. Is there some item, product, or component which is currently difficult to make with conventional processes which might be much more effectively and efficiently made using 3D techniques? If so, is it worth my while economically to invest time and money to develop the process for that item?
  2. Is the time ripe to either invest in or create from scratch a service company which would provide 3D printing services to organizations and individuals for BOTH prototype and limited production (a job shop AND prototype shop?)
I am NOT looking for a job for myself as someone else's employee, BUT it may very well be that one of my client organizations may just be a perfect fit for incorporating 3D printing technology in some aspect of its business. Being familiar with the process puts another arrow in my quiver of service to my clients.

On the other hand, I am still an active subscriber to trade journals on microscopy, biology, biochemistry although I rarely get clients dealing in those industries, so my scan of those journals is very perfunctory, pausing to investigate further only when MY answer to the 4 questions triggers further investigation which may lead me to solicit such organization as a potential client or as a resource for one of my other clients.

These suggestions I make are to a wide audience. However, if only ONE PERSON derives success from applying that suggestion (even if I never learn about it), I would still consider worthwhile to have put the suggestion in the wind.
 

Ronen E

Problem Solver
Moderator
Maybe I wasn't clear enough about the mobility aspect. I definitely didn't refer to geographic relocation. While today work migration (either local or international) is much more prevalent than it used to be, and will probably continue to grow, it is not a sign of true flexibility IMO. I don't mean to undervalue people who do that, but the flexibility I was talking about allows people to relocate geographically only if they choose to, rather than as a reaction to a tough reality.

In my mind true career flexibility is the ability to reinvent oneself in a different industry or in a different profession, i.e. being able to market and utilise base competencies, skills, talents, attitudes etc. in a totally unfamiliar professional environment; and make that environment familiar rather quickly.
 

Wes Bucey

Prophet of Profit
Oh, I understood the mobility was more than geographic. Changing industries and locations but still deploying a basic skill set is relatively easy. Completely reinventing oneself in terms of skills and competencies is a completely different proposition. It takes time and effort to develop new skills and competencies. Who pays the worker while he is unproductive (learning these new skills)? Who pays the instructors and institutions which provide brick and mortar or online learning?

I may have advanced science degrees and engineering certifications, but if I wanted to be a medical doctor or pharmacist, I'd still have to display competency in those fields and pass certification exams. Would I be able to do so without taking courses and studying for months, even years?

We often laugh when someone uses the line, "Hey, it's not brain surgery or rocket science!" The reality is whether anyone would hire the services of an automotive quality manager who turned up after 20 years at GM and declared himself ready to perform brain or cardiac surgery? How about something easier? Switch from quality management at a commercial bank to electrical engineer designing semiconductors?

Sure, there are lots of opportunities for computer savvy guys to telecommute, but, ultimately, somebody has to be on the ground. Skynet (The Terminator) may be a reality in the future, but it takes folks on the ground to consume goods and services and how are they going to earn the money to pay for those goods and services if all the work is done by artificial intelligence entities? Where does the capital come from for the investment in infrastructure?
 

Ronen E

Problem Solver
Moderator
An engineer made redundant due to an industry sector collapse doesn't have to become a brain surgeon to find their next career move. Obviously they'd be more successful pursuing an engineering or technical related role, but it could be in a field completely new to them. If they have proper flexibility they'd be able to win the position and make themselves informed, productive, effective and last - efficient, without spending months and years in "brick and mortar" school. That's why I think one of the greatest assets one can have is the ability to learn, quickly.

I don't refer to IT or computer science at all. I refer to hands on mechanical, electrical, chemical engineering, QA, and that sort of stuff. From what I see the biggest barrier to conversion as I described is psychological. Most people don't dare to try it because they're afraid of failure; but one way to make sure a goal is not achieved is avoiding it.
 
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