Worried You Might Be in a Dying Industry?

By Matt Dallisson, 13/01/2021

Any business in any sector is ultimately vulnerable to disruption or obsoletion if it doesn’t plan and adapt for the future. Technological progress creates lots of opportunities but also leaves destruction in its wake. Much of that destruction exacts a human cost in the form of jobs that are lost as one company or industry supplants others. If you’re in an industry that is morphing, waning, or struggling to keep up with shifts in the economy, it’s understandable that you might be worried about your job.

The good news is that these changes don’t happen overnight. Chances are you’ll see the writing on the wall. You can most likely predict whether your job is at risk due to changes in the market. If you anticipate that your career path may become a dead-end, what can you do to prepare?

If you hold a senior position, there’s probably a lot you can do to encourage your firm to adapt, assuming you’re willing to engage in a little destruction of your own. If you’re further down in the hierarchy and lack the influence needed to shape company strategy, there may be less you can do. Either way, it’s important to future-proof your career by carefully assessing your skills and how they might apply elsewhere.

Focus on transferable skills.

The safest path involves making a serious evaluation of your skills. Many people are good at describing the specific tasks they do and their experience with particular processes and skills. That is why people list their job titles, describe a project they were on, and then list apps or certifications on their resumes. But your job description is only a rough guide to what makes you succeed at work.

What are you really capable of doing? Can you bring people together to work on a project toward a common goal? Are you good at taking abstract problem statements and turning them into a set of actions that can be carried out? Are you skilled at facilitating tough conversations and resolving conflicts among your colleagues? Some of these skills may relate to your current role, but others might be things you do routinely without getting credit for in the yearly performance evaluation.

Make a list of those more abstract capabilities; they are the strengths you want to build on, and they might point toward the next step in your career.

Identifying your true capacities might seem an obvious task, but many find it difficult. In my role at UT Austin, I’ve talked with many PhD students over the years who wanted to go into industry but couldn’t articulate what transferrable skills they had picked up during their years of study. Similarly, advocates for military veterans have pointed out that as soldiers transition into the civilian workforce, they struggle to translate what they have done in the military into statements of what they can bring to a firm.

Once you know what those skills are, you can start to explore where they apply, perhaps by going to job fairs or other career events and engaging with recruiters from other industries. Get a sense of the job titles that could make sense for you in an unfamiliar area. Learn the jargon that field uses to describe them. You might need to learn a few new apps or processes to be a viable candidate, but knowing what you bring to the table will help you present yourself as a worthwhile applicant and get an interview.

Innovate from within.

If you’re a little higher in your organization’s hierarchy and you have some entrepreneurial spirit, you might adopt a different mindset. Instead of focusing on where you might go next, you could think about how your company could evolve. Almost every sector of agricultural, product, and service industries is going to change in the next 20 years. Even university education, where I work (which in many ways hasn’t substantially changed its methods in 500 years) is likely to see significant disruption in the next decade or two.

In other words: If you assume that your job is going to get eaten by change, perhaps you should be the one doing the eating.

The classic example of a company that was unwilling to eat itself is Kodak. Despite being the developer of digital imaging technology, it had concerns about pursuing the technology for fear of cutting into sales of photographic film. It was right about the implications of digital imaging technology for its core business but wrong not to take the lead in bringing that technology to market.

In contrast, companies such as Netflix kept an eye on factors that could make their businesses obsolete from the start. Netflix recognized that the video rental business, and in particular the behemoth Blockbuster, was saddled with the huge costs of maintaining brick-and-mortar locations and that a less-expensive model, using centralized warehouses and an online interface, was feasible. It also quickly recognized that it was essentially sending computer files via a very low bandwidth connection (the US Postal Service) and shifted to a streaming model. Then it recognized that streaming other people’s content would not be sufficient to maintain subscribers and began producing and acquiring original shows.

If you have some influence over your organization and are willing to take a risk, think about how you could capitalize on the next trends in your industry before they capsize your company. This is no small endeavor. A few key questions can help you start.

These questions will focus you on the things that other companies could most easily do to make your industry obsolete. And by examining ways to steal your own market share, you are changing the typical dynamic. Most companies ask how they can steal market share from competitors, which leads them to continue playing the same game but trying to do so more efficiently. When you ask how you can steal your own market share, you have to focus on playing the game in a completely different way.

Your industry, like all industries, will ultimately undergo radical change. Instead of lamenting the changes that are coming, face them head-on. Your career will depend on staying ahead of — if not creating — those changes.

This content was originally published here.

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