Making Yourself Indispensable: Find Your Durable Value

By DeVry University

Presenters:

  • Alexandra Levit, Human Capital Author, Analyst, Consultant and Futurist
  • Lisa Iannuzzelli, DeVry University National Dean of Program and Course Development

When it comes to a career, do you like the idea of making yourself indispensable? Hear from futurist, Alexandra Levit, in this Future-Ready Skills session as she breaks down what makes up career durability. Plus, learn how to acquire the skills, mindset and knowledge needed to be an engaged, productive and persistent member of the workforce.

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Video Transcription

Lisa Iannuzzelli: Now, I have the pleasure of introducing you to our next speaker, who will talk about Durable Value. Alexandra Levit's goal is to prepare organizations and their employees to be competitive and marketable in the future business world. A former nationally syndicated columnist for the Wall Street Journal and writer for the New York Times, Fast Company, and Forbes. Alexandra has authored several books, including the international bestseller, "They Don't Teach Corporate in College” and “Humanity Works: Merging People and Technologies for the Workforce of the Future." Alexandra is also a frequent National Media Spokesperson and is regularly featured in outlets, including USA Today, National Public Radio CNN, ABC News, CNBC, Forbes, the Associated Press and Glamour. She was named and American Management Association top leader, for two years in a row, and she's also been Money Magazines Online Career Expert of the year, and the author of one of Forbes’ Best Websites for Women.

To our audience, please use the chat to enter your questions. Welcome Alexandra. We're excited to have you here today.

Author, Speaker, Consultant and Futurist

Alexandra Levit: Thank you so much, Lisa. I am excited to be here. Hi everyone. Good afternoon. As Lisa mentioned, I am Alexandra Levit. I'm a business and workplace Author, Speaker, Consultant, and Futurist. For those of you who are a bit perplexed by the word futurist, all that means is that I look at what's going on in the market and I try to make a good educated guess about what has the greatest possibility to cause disruption in the near future workforce. I don't have a crystal ball. I'm merely trying to look at the signals out there and try to determine where we need to focus our energies. Today, those energies are on Durable Value. Now, I've been working with DeVry University for a very long time.

I am the Chair of an organization known as the Career Advisory Board, which we established way back in 2010, in order to help all job seekers and all employees advance. One of the core ways to advance in this new and very crazy climate, is to make sure that you use your knowledge, your skills, your expertise, in order to be adaptable, to constantly learn in new environments and make sure that you can pivot easily from one thing to another, and if there is one thing that I can tell you all in the next 30 minutes, that you can walk out of here, literally and figuratively, and implement right away, to drive your career in the right direction, then I will have done my job. Without further ado, let's get going. Team, can you please show us the first slide? Okay. Team, if you could make that a little bit bigger, that would be great. It's just a tiny little box for me. Okay. I think I've got it here. All right. Excellent.

Preparing for a Career Change

Alexandra Levit: We're talking about Durable Value.  And actually, DeVry University has done some really exceptional research that is hot off the press. It actually hasn't even been published yet, it was conducted in the last two months around, how people are responding to COVID-19 in terms of, what they were going to do with their careers? I thought it would be a good place to start, to share some of those results with you. First of all, one in four, so about 25% of people said they were thinking about changing careers as a result of COVID-19. Now, this isn't totally unusual. During times of crisis, we tend to want to reevaluate things, take a step back, take a different perspective. These numbers are a little bit higher than they would have been, let's say, a year ago.

Now, in terms of what we are looking to do with our careers as a result of COVID, (besides just changing them), we looked at people who were employed and people who were looking for a job.  And of those employed, about a third of people were concerned that they lacked hard skills. We're going to talk a little bit more in a minute about what hard skills are, and that this made them vulnerable. Now, that number is interesting because it means that the rest of the people are not that concerned. About 70% were not concerned about their hard skills, and were all about continuous self-improvement here. Hopefully, we're going to give you some tools that even if you're not concerned, you're going to be able to use those tools in order to drive those hard skills forward. Respondents who indicated that they were concerned, were equally worried about soft skills. Soft skills are going to be another area. We're going to talk about five pillars of Durable Value specifically, and we're going to include soft skills as one of those pillars.  About the same amount of people were concerned about their soft skills, as were concerned about their hard skills.

Now, almost half of our respondents, this was another interesting one, were confident in their abilities, when it comes to finding or keeping jobs. We hear a lot about the uncertainty in the workplace today, but the fact of the matter is, at the end of the day, people are feeling pretty good if they are currently employed, and if they're not, they feel pretty good that they're going to be able to find something else. That's promising to see. On the other hand, if you're in that 50%, who's not feeling so confident, you are in the right place because we're going to be giving you very concrete tips that you can implement to feel a little bit more comfortable.

Finally, about 40% of people who are not currently working or intending to find work, don't plan on doing anything special to boost their employability. This is the needle that we, at the Career Advisory Board in DeVry University are hoping to move. We're hoping to get everybody in a continuous learning mindset, where you're always looking for new ways to boost your employability. That should be something that is par for the course. And of course, if you're on this event today, you've already got a great start. You've heard it a lot of amazing speakers and we've got more tips to come. Team, can we go to the next slide?

The Five Pillars of Career Durability

Alexandra Levit: Without going any further, I want to make sure that I define “Career Durability” for you, because this is a relatively new concept. It's one that we're talking a lot about, but it's one that's going to have increasing importance as we move along. (inaudible) ...a productive member of the workforce continuously. “Continuously” is a very important part of this, because what might make you marketable one minute, might not make you marketable tomorrow. You have to always be on the lookout for ways that you can increase your own skillset and the five pillars of durability, which we're going to talk about in a minute, are going to help you do that.

Team, let's go to the next slide. I promised pillars and here are our pillars. The five pillars of Career Durability. I mentioned soft skills. I mentioned hard skills. We're going to talk about a new area, you might not have heard about, called applied technology skills (I will explain what that is, I promise). Institutional knowledge and mindset. And together, all of these things work together to enhance your Career Durability and ensure that you can be gainfully employed over the course of your lifetime. Next slide, please.

1. Soft Skills

Alexandra Levit: We start with soft skills, because soft skills are the area that are probably the most important, and I'll tell you why. I do a lot of work with machine learning and the impact of artificial intelligence, and of course, everyone's very concerned these days, that machines or robots are going take our jobs. Well, that's not necessarily the case, but the fact of the matter is, humans and machines are going to need to work together very closely. For that reason, we as human beings have to bring skills to the table, the machines are not capable of exhibiting. These are skills like intuition, diplomacy, problem solving, empathy. These are the things that until machines developed consciousness, what could be a long way down the road, they're not going to be able to replicate. One of the ways that you can ensure your Career Durability, is to focus on these interpersonal attributes that you need to successfully collaborate with others at work.

I say others, I primarily mean other human beings, but also machines. It's going to require a special type of person, who can indicate and who can figure out, how machines who are on their team, can best automate value and bring greater success to the organization. How do you get these skills? Soft skills are one of those kinds of tricky areas where there's no easy way to determine whether you learn them or not. There are a variety of ways. I recommend mentorship as the primary way. Basically, you just tap somebody you think has a generosity of spirit and who is a little further ahead on the career path than you, and ask them ways in which they think that you can improve, or they think that you can develop. The areas of strength, the areas where perhaps you just need a little bit more experience, a little bit more tutoring, maybe some role playing.  This is a great thing to do.

Personality assessments and the recommendations that come from these can help you understand your soft skills a little bit better. I would not be me if I didn't recommend my two absolute favorite books, when it comes to mastering some of these soft skills. Dale Carnegie's, "How to Win Friends and Influence People." Stephen, Covey's, "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People." If there is literally one resource I can give you today, that I hope you will go check out, is those two books. Finally, on the job experience. There's no substitute for just being in a role and figuring out how to solve problems. If you haven't done it before, chances are, you're not going to be as good at it. Whereas if you were a little bit more seasoned, you can probably figure it out, and that's what having soft skills is all about.

2. Hard Skills

Alexandra Levit: Next slide, please. Next, we have hard skills. Hard skills are a lot easier to get our arms around. Hard skills are teachable things in a specific area and learning can be measured. You either know the skill or you don't know the skill. It's a lot easier for us to quantify. It's a lot easier for us to report on a resume and everyone can be on the same page as, "Okay, well, I know that software program, I know how to do that accounting method." It's something that pretty much everyone understands universally, and they're important for obvious reasons. If you're applying for a job, people will expect that you're able to do the tasks in the job description. They will have read your resume. They'll be impressed with what they see and they want to hear more about that. One of my favorite examples of just a really easy hard skill, not that it's easy to do, but it's easy to understand, is a phlebotomist.

You can't get a job as a phlebotomist, if you don't know how to insert an IV, if you don’t know how to draw blood. These are things you learn. They're very concrete. You either know how to do it, or you don't. If you don't know how to do it, then you're probably going to have to get some experience before you get a job in that function. How might you get these if you want to become a phlebotomist? Well, what do you do?

Degree programs, of course are really useful, and thanks to institutions like DeVry, we have so many options for getting degrees these days, that don't require sitting in a physical classroom or having a rigid schedule that doesn't allow you to work. There's a lot of options now. Online courses, you'd be surprised the variety of those certification and micro-credentials. The Career Advisory Board actually conducted a study a few years ago, that showed that 80% of employers were receptive to a micro-credential or certificate over a degree program.  Meaning, as long as you could show the skill in some way, that you had proficiency, they were happy with that. They didn't necessarily have to see a degree. That was really interesting, and that was a few years ago. It's gotten even better from there.

Finally, take advantage of employer training. We're going to be talking about that over the course of the next couple of minutes. But employers are really out to up-skill and re-skill their workforces, and what that means is, up-skill refers to an employer's desire to keep their people roughly in the same positions, but give them additional skills that will make them more successful.

Whereas re-skilling is an employer's desire to retrain people in a completely new job, in case one of their jobs becomes redundant, or it's now done by machines. They want to transition people into something that the business needs even more. That's up-skilling and re-skilling. You're going to see a lot more talk about this.  If you're currently employed, take advantage every time your employer offers a resource or offers a training course.  This can really help you boost your hard skills, especially if you're doing one at a time, the years add up.  Next thing you know, you've got five certifications that are useful to you. Not only in that job, but moving forward. Next slide, Team.

3. Applied Technology Skills

Alexandra Levit: I promised you all, I would talk about applied technology skills, and I know the term is not that exciting, but you can tell that I'm pretty passionate about this subject. This term came about, a few years ago, we were with the DeVry Career Advisory Board and we were studying the types of technology skills that everyone would need to have. I know you've heard a lot about tech skills already, but applied technology skills specifically, are the ability to leverage people, processes, data, and devices, in order to do a job more efficiently. That's a fancy way of saying that, you don't necessarily need to know how to build an application from scratch. You don't necessarily need to know how to code. But you do need to know what technology is out there that can do your job better. When we were setting up this conference, for example, we are using a variety of different technologies that are making the online virtual conference experience a lot better and work a lot more effectively for you all and for us, as the speakers.

Well, if we didn't know that Zoom had X, Y, and Z technologies associated with it, it had this functionality, we wouldn't have been able to do that. That's at the heart of applied technology skills, in every single occupation, no matter what role you are, what industry you're in, technology exists to augment what we as humans can do. We have to know what that is and how to use it. Two of my favorite examples of these kinds of skills, data analytics, I learned a little bit about it myself by taking an online course last year. Application development, knowing that, "Hey, I don't have to program application from scratch, but I could use one, in order to let's say, track my sales or keep up my relationships with customers or streamline my accounting methods." That's at the heart of applied technology skills.

Now, how might you get these? Hopefully it's not too tricky because employers are, as I said, very much on board these days with this. But employer training, as soon as you have the opportunity, it could be with a partnership with IT, it could be something you do on your own. I'm a huge fan of solo exploration and investigation. As an example, I had heard the buzz term, predictive analytics. I heard that in the recruiting function, you could look at the employees you already have, and based on some of their characteristics, you could determine who to hire, that would be most likely to be successful and stay on the job for several years. Well, that's obviously extremely useful for someone who works in human resources.

It's that kind of thing. Using predictive analytics, I was able to learn more about that, and that was all through a path of solo exploration. I said, "This will be useful for my job. I am going to figure it out." Unfortunately, there are lots of means out there to do that, but again, do not hesitate to take advantage of all the employer offerings that we're going to be given. I think we're going to see post COVID, that this takes more of a center stage.

4. Institutional Knowledge

Alexandra Levit: Our second to last pillar is, institutional knowledge. You might have heard this phrase before. It refers to the job or the industry specific expertise that you gain through experience and or tenure. In other words, the longer you are at an organization, the longer you work in an industry, the more things that you will face and the more problems you will learn how to solve. Now, this is particularly important these days because of the timing. Organizations are facing a brain drain. The baby boomer generation, so the people who are in their 60s and 70s now, are finally retiring. It's been delayed a little bit due to, not just COVID, but also the 2008 recession, and because of that, they've been working longer. But they are finally starting to exit and they are taking a lot of this institutional knowledge with them. It's important for us as younger people who are going to be working for a while, to get that experience from them, to get that knowledge from them.

There are only certain things that you can learn by being there. My favorite example recently, BNSF railroaders. I work with the national railroad and I see how much experience they gain, just by working on the railroad for years and years. They have seen everything. They have a tremendous amount of institutional knowledge, so don't discount the value of that. It's very important we have to learn how to promote that as well.

How do you get it? Well, stay at one company, in one industry and gain cross functional experience. The number one strategy I can recommend folks for this is, if you are unhappy in a job or you were bored in a job, instead of looking to jump to another company, look at opportunities within that company, because you will continue to gain that institutional knowledge and it will compound and exponentially increase as you take on different roles within the organization.

To do that, you can either take a different role and have a completely new job, or you could do job shadowing, following people around for a couple of days to see what they do. I did this once when I wanted to learn more about accounts payable. I just had no idea how they worked in a given company, so I went and just worked with those people for a few days. Informational interviews, you've heard a lot about that. Volunteering, taking a cause that you feel passionately about and offering to lend a hand in a new area where you might not have a lot of experience. That's also a great way to increase institutional knowledge, especially, if eventually you want to make that passion a career.  To understand how the industry works and to have done so in a position where there's less pressure, is really beneficial. That's institutional knowledge. Team, may we go to the next slide, please.

5. Mindset

Alexandra Levit: Finally, we have mindset. Mindset is our last pillar, but it should not be thought of to be the least important. In fact, it is the most important. Mindset, you've heard probably a lot about growth mindset in particular. It's an attitude that influences how we see our world and how we're motivated to change, to learn, to grow. It's important because nobody in this future world of work, is going to be doing your learning for you. The days of a manager or professor telling you, "You need to learn X, Y, and Z, and then you'll be successful." Those days are behind us. It's very important that we have individual curiosity, that we are self-directed and that we have the drive to improve. A great example of this was during the pandemic. We're still in the pandemic, but a couple of months ago, I was consulting with a group of interns who were very concerned that their internships were going to be canceled because their departments that they were planning on working with, were not fully operational.

These interns still wanted to work at the company, so they took it upon themselves to pitch to these companies, to these hiring managers, how they could add value, specifically during the pandemic, how they could help them learn video conferencing, how could they support their IT people in getting everybody in a virtual work environment who might not have done so before. They used their own ingenuity and their own mindset to figure out how to make that job work and how to convince other people to give them a shot. It's a great example. How might you get it? Well, you have to have kind of a thick skin to get good development on your growth mindset. It means paying real close attention to peer and manager evaluations, accepting when you fail, that not everything you try is going to work out and that's okay. To listen and really try to implement constructive feedback instead of getting defensive. To be intrapreneurial, which refers to being an entrepreneur in the context of a larger organization, sometimes a corporation and tooling around and tinkering and experimenting and trying new things.

Finally, listening to inspirational videos and TED Talks and podcasts. I love Talks@Google. I am addicted to TED Talks and then Sam Harris also has a podcast that always makes me think. Whatever you like, get into the habit of tuning into these, maybe once, maybe twice a week, because you would be surprised. It's a great way to keep that motivation to learn up over time, which sometimes can fall by the wayside, when we're really busy.

Ideas for Maintaining Durable Value

Alexandra Levit: So this is our final slide before we're going to go to a couple of questions. I would be remiss if I didn't give you very specific strategies for maintaining your Durable Value over time. What are you going to walk out of here and do? Well, first of all, be a futurist. I mentioned that futurists are just people who look at the market, look at the environment and say, "Here's what's likely to come next and here's what's likely to make a big bang."

In your industry, in your profession, what is coming next and where are humans going to be needed to add value? Where are the gaps? That's where you want to be increasing your own skillset. Prepare that the near future is going to be full of things called super jobs, where there might be a job that was previously in one department. Maybe it was in marketing and a second job that was previously in sales. Well, now those two jobs might be combined into one because some aspects of both are going to be automated. As an example, we have a customer experience architect or someone who looks at customer data and crunches it a bunch of different ways, and as a result, is able to come up with a new customer experience. Previously, you might've had someone in IT working on this and someone in marketing.

Well, now that's one person. The days of departmental silos are a little bit behind us. You have to be prepared to be super cross-functional for these super jobs. I mentioned up-skilling and re-skilling, and how to take advantage of opportunities from your employer. That's where the bulk of them are going to be from, because the World Economic Forum has told everyone, it's in your best interest as a business, to re-skill and up-skill your current workforce instead of necessarily getting rid of people or laying them off. That's going to be coming. Tap into your own rivers of information. I have a colleague who loves to use this phrase rivers of information as a personally charged approach, to identifying resources that are going to work for you and the training, things that are available, that actually line up with your values and your schedule in your lifestyle.

Communicate examples of all five pillars on your resume.  We tend to focus very heavily on hard skills and also job experiences that isn't measurable. We could do a whole other session on resumes, but suffice to say that, when you're putting together a resume, look to quantify experience in each of these five pillars.

Finally, we are not in the last disruption. COVID is not going to be the last pandemic. It's not going to be the last major disruption in our lifetimes and our careers. Get used to being more agile and being okay with uncertainty. These are skills that are going to serve you well, because the fact is, we don't really know what's going to happen next, and we don't know where our careers are going to be going. The best thing that we can do, is be comfortable and calm, taking one intelligence step at a time. That is all the official verbiage that I need to give you all today.

Lisa, would we like to take a couple minutes to go to questions?

Preparing to Pivot in Your Career

Lisa Iannuzzelli: Yeah. I think we have time for one question. I think this question is certainly relevant to what you were just talking about. The question is, if you find yourself needing to pivot in your career, what's the quickest way to start applying some of what you're talking about here. What are the first steps? How do you move, maybe your job was eliminated because of the pandemic or something?

Alexandra Levit: I love it. Well, that is a great question and the very first thing you want to do is, you want to be reading up on your industry. What are the jobs that are not going away? There are things that you might have experience in, you might have skills in, that are hot and you might look, if your job hasn't been officially eliminated, or maybe you see the writing on the wall, you might look at other areas of the company that are still growing or still in need of help, and figure out, "Okay, exactly what's the mix of skills that I need to transition into the area that is hot."

Of course, as you can imagine, this requires a lot of attention. You have to understand what's going on. That's why that very first tactic of being a futurist is so critical because you can see the writing on the wall. You can see what professions are in danger and the ones where we really are going to see a lot of need. Healthcare is a great example of this. Anything in healthcare right now is going to be pretty marketable. Perhaps if you're in an IT position where you see some of your jobs being automated, why not go into healthcare analytics. That's going to be something that is going to be highly in demand. I hope that answered your question and I'm happy to provide additional detail offline too.

Lisa Iannuzzelli: Thank you, Alexandra. Thank you for the great response. Thank you for introducing us to the concepts of Durable Value, very interesting and relevant to today, and giving us your ideas of how we can make ourselves indispensable.

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