2020 is the Year of Upskilling

Last August, I spent the month teaching my audience how to upskill themselves. Upskilling is one of those words that’s still a little bit out of reach for most people. It hasn’t entered mainstream just yet.

That’s all about to change in 2020. Upskilling is going to go mainstream in people’s professional lives. First, people love to kick off a new decade with big, bold moves. People are eager to build on ideas from the previous decade and start again, both in their professional and personal lives.

Second, the pace at which change is happening in our workplace is staggering. LinkedIn featured two posts this past week that highlighted the shifts we’re already seeing in the workplace. The first, “Where have all the secretaries gone?” covered the disappearance of administrative assistant jobs, often staffed by women without degrees. There was a quote in that article that really struck me:

Rita Maxwell had no idea she was about to lose the job she’d had for nearly 20 years when her boss told her to meet him in the conference room at the end of the work day. “I was completely taken aback when he called me into the meeting room to let me know my position had been eliminated,” said Maxwell, who was let go in early 2017. “There’s just not a lot of loyalty anymore.”

Administrative assistant jobs helped propel many women into the middle class. Now they’re disappearing.

Loyalty, specifically the lack of it, is just one of many changes to our new world of work.

The second LinkedIn highlight covered the teacher shortage, with more and more teachers opting out of teaching because of low pay. While our lack of teachers is a national problem, it struck me because teaching used to be a sure fire path to career success and fulfillment. It was the secure job that people often changed into when they wanted an escape from their burnt out path. Now days, not so much.

There’s even a map of the fastest disappearing jobs in the US by state.

On top of that, we see more articles about new types of jobs, like this one, highlighting architects working in video game design as a creative way to apply their skills. It’s yet another traditional career path that’s adapting to our new world of work. It’s also enough to get any burnt out architect thinking, how do I get into that?!

It’s time to upskill yourself

The result is that a lot more people are starting to see the impact, good and bad, of new technology in their workplace. And they’re looking for ways to adapt.

Adaptation is upskilling. Though upskilling isn’t a household term just yet, it will be in 2020 thanks to the impact of recent changes in the workplace.

Upskilling is a verb and a mindset. It’s the act of learning new skills to improve your professional life. It’s also a willingness to accept that things are changing, take charge of your learning and development, and not burry your head in the sand.

And while the term upskilling is frequently thrown around in articles as if one can just upskill tomorrow, upskilling is not an easy process. Every time I read yet another leader writing in a big publication (looking at you HBR) declare that our collective workforce simply needs to upskill, I roll my eyes. Often these articles are written by people who haven’t actually upskilled themselves.

In fact, upskilling is downright hard. I say this as someone who is doing it and as someone who just wrote a book teaching people how to upskill. For most of us, we haven’t been taught how to upskill.

It makes me think of a quote from a post I wrote last year:

The benefits of the comfort zone are appealing. Steady (though not always satisfying) incomes, “secure” jobs, relaxed routines, and predictable schedules are as comforting to humans as they are to animals. In this phase, people limit their learning to things they learn on the job, not knowing that yesterday’s lessons rarely solve tomorrow’s challenges… Without skill upgrades or a willingness to learn, people are caught in a rut. They are unable to see when the next trend is about to catch up or when the current one is about to die. For the few that can see the new trend, the pain of having to upgrade their skills far supersedes the pleasure of staying in the comfort zone.- 

How to stay relevant in today’s rapidly-changing job market

Making a plan in 2020 to upskill yourself

If you’re curious about how to upskill yourself, follow me on LinkedIn where I’ll be hosting trainings in January and February. You can also dive into some of my previous posts to get a handle on where we’re headed in the future of work (or get my book):

If listening is more your style, here’s recent podcast I did on how to outsmart artificial intelligence & develop your future.

And here are two snippets from the training last August to get you started on thinking about upskilling and our new world of work.

A selection of dystopian af quotes on surveillance in schools

I’d love to write a more thorough post on this subject (and maybe soon I will) but for now I’m just going to drop some terrifying quotes from a recent Guardian article, Clear backpacks, monitored emails: life for US students under constant surveillance. The entire article should be a must-read for all parents in hopes that the more we understand, the better we’ll be about asking tough questions on surveillance in schools.

I’m dropping these quote nuggets for thoughtful discussion for you and your partner:

Tech companies are now offering a range of products that help schools track the websites kids are visiting and the searches they are making; that monitor everything students are writing in school emails, chats and shared documents; or that even attempt to track what students are posting on their public social media accounts.

Some parents said they were alarmed and frightened by schools’ new monitoring technologies. Others said they were conflicted, seeing some benefits to schools watching over what kids are doing online, but uncertain if their schools were striking the right balance with privacy concerns. Many said they were not even sure what kind of surveillance technology their schools might be using, and that the permission slips they had signed when their kids brought home school devices had told them almost nothing.

“It’s the school as panopticon, and the sweeping searchlight beams into homes, now, and to me, that’s just disastrous to intellectual risk-taking and creativity.”

As of 2018, at least 60 American school districts had also spent more than $1m on separate monitoring technology to track what their students were saying on public social media accounts, an amount that spiked sharply in the wake of the 2018 Parkland school shooting, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, a progressive advocacy group that compiled and analyzed school contracts with a subset of surveillance companies.

There are virtual learning platforms, platforms for coordinating with teachers, platforms that specialize in teaching kids math.
“They are all mandatory, and the accounts have been created before we’ve even been consulted,” he said. Parents are given almost no information about how their children’s data is being used, or the business models of the companies involved.

Will the data generated by the accounts his kids use at school be factored into decisions about whether they get a job later in life, or how much they have to pay for insurance? “It’s not really a far future,” he said.

Parents, I encourage you to read the whole thing. Then start asking questions and hosting discussions with your community and school about the impact of surveillance in schools:

  • Who benefits from the surveillance of children?
  • Who suffers from the surveillance of children?
  • How much money is made off of the surveillance of children?
  • What are better ways to solve problems around safety in the classroom?
  • How are children responding to increased surveillance?
  • How would you feel if this tech was incorporated into the workplace? (btw this surveillance tech is surely coming for the workforce and in some places, it is already here.
  • How might the data that is being collected going to be used in the future?
  • What predictions are being made with this data?
  • How many false positives occur with this technology?
  • What is the recourse for someone falsely identified as a suspect/troublemaker/future crime commiter by surveillance technology?
  • How should children or parents challenge surveillance in schools?
  • How should children or parents opt out of surveillance in schools?

And if you’re reading this and you’re thinking, my family has nothing to hide, we follow the rules, then I encourage you to read this entire piece by a leading AI researcher and teacher:

8 Things You Need to Know About Surveillance

Here’s the tl;dr outline from the article:

surveillance in schools

What if students created online content for career services?

This is a follow up to my last post about career services: Career services is competing with YouTube and influencers. With close to 300 views in past five days it’s clear the themes resonated with professionals in career services.

In the prior post I advocate for creating online career content that doesn’t recreate the wheel. I also make the case that career services leadership needs to hire people with content creation skills. Just because someone can coach doesn’t mean they can develop engaging content.

Today I just stumbled on this article about students creating their own content for university marketing (h/t to @TaylorLorenz who write about how students (teens) actually use the internet and whom I learn everything from):

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The “I hate my job/I’m miserable at work wtf do I do now” advice dump

I once worked with someone who did exactly this. Left on the her lunch break and never came back. It was glorious to see.

I hang out in a lot of new mom Facebook groups which means I see a lot these types of “i hate my job now what” posts. Being a mom, new or experienced, is tough. Adding to it a terrible workplace/boss/workload creates an overwhelming sense of failure and frustration.

I see a lot of women asking for a way out. And they should. Turning to your community – online and offline – is a good start to leaving your shitty job. There should be no shame in leaving something so unfulfilling, so toxic.

Since I just wrote a book that basically encourages everyone to leave a bad workplace (and change careers), I’m writing a lot of career change advice in Facebook groups lately. It reminds me of the days when I was a professional career coach and someone at a bar would ask me what I did for a living. I’d tell them I was a career coach and they’d tell me how much they hate their job. It’s impossible to stay quiet in those conversations. People who are stuck in their jobs need perspective, a bit of direction, and a friendly ear.

I’ve noticed that a lot of people who are stuck are hung up on the idea that they should go back to school right away. But they aren’t sure how to go back to school because it costs so much and even then they don’t know exactly what they want to do for the rest of our lives. That’s totally normal.

We were all raised with the idea that to make a career change we needed to go back to school. We were also taught that we were supposed to figure out the one thing we’d do for the rest of our lives. Going back to school is a debt-filled experience packaged as a investment in our professional selves. It creates a lot of pressure to choose the one right path. The result is often paralysis for those who are stuck.

Thankfully things have changed. We don’t have to pick one thing for the rest of our lives. Our careers are flexible. We’ll change multiple times over the course of our careers. Sometimes it will be big changes, other times, smaller changes. There are also far more learning experiences available to us that don’t involve going back to get another degree.

The first step in making a career change isn’t deciding to go back to school or not (in fact for many you don’t even need to go back to school to make a career change). To escape a bad workplace, you have to get to know your options. Identify all the possible paths for change, pick one, and then learn the skills you need to get on that path.

I’ve given so much advice in Facebook groups lately that I’m starting to feel like a broken record. So I’m dropping off an advice dump from a recent Facebook group post that covers the first baby steps of a career change.

Share it with anyone else who is stuck in their job and wants a way out.

First off, GTFO of your place of work that doesn’t deserve you. You’ve given and given and now you’re drained. There are so many people in your situation.

Start simple: commit to changing it. You don’t have to have a plan or make a big step. You can start small and commit to the exploration process.

Talk to people about their interests. Learn what other opportunities are out there by asking people about their work, how they got into their field, what advice they’d have for you. You’ll learn so much.

Then check in with yourself. What skills do you have? What are you good at? Make a list. Take stock.

Read job descriptions like they are tiny short stories and pay attention to jobs that interest you, not what you are qualified for. What sparks your interest? What type of companies interest you?

Read newsletters from industries that interest you. Listen to podcasts from leaders, companies, or professional topics that interest you. Make notes on the type of work that interests you. Look for possibilities and resist the urge to talk yourself out of doing something.

The workplace has changed a lot in the last several years. There are really good places to work, good teams, and better managers. Take small steps towards finding them.

Commit to change even if you don’t know what shape change will take.

THEN focus on finding the learning experiences that will help you get new skills. 

Need more advice? Get the book. Available now.

A podcast interview from across the pond

It’s always a treat to guest on a podcast but I think the treat is even sweeter when the podcast is hosted by someone with a British accent. I had was thrilled to chat with Jane Barrett, Founder of Career Farm, all about our new world of work.

So enjoy this episode about how to adapt to changes in the workplace: How to outsmart artificial intelligence & develop your future. And if this really interest you, check out my new book.

Career services is competing with YouTube and influencers

UPDATE: This post blew up. Here’s part 2: What if students created online content for career services?

More than 500 million learning-related videos are viewed on the platform every day. These videos are made and shared by a highly-motivated group of creators, such as Linda Raynier, whose videos teach job seekers how to nail an interview or write a resume that gets noticed; or Vanessa Van Edwards, who helps people master soft skills like how to use body language in an interview or communicate a great elevator pitch.

How YouTube can help people develop their careers and grow their businesses

I just came across a job posting for a job in career services supporting online students. Online learning for higher education has grown significantly in the last few years. Inside Higher education reports that in 2017, “The proportion of all students who were enrolled exclusively online grew to 15.4 percent (up from 14.7 percent in 2016), or about one in six students.”

So it’s heartening to see a position that’s dedicated to supporting online learners. It was, however, disheartening to see the job description.

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Is management ok?

More than two-thirds of workers, specifically 64 percent, trust robots more than their managers…

Notably, 45 percent of workers—less than half—said managers are better than robots at understanding their feelings. Thirty-three percent believe managers are better at coaching while 29 percent said they’re better at creating work culture. However, 26 percent believe robots are better at providing unbiased information and 29 percent said they were better at problem-solving.

Conflicting Views on When Employees Trust AI, Managers

I don’t even know what to write about this survey and really I just feel like typing WTF over and over again. I didn’t dive into the report to see the methodology or question phrasing, so I’m taking everything surface value here. But I’m still floored.

What the hell is happening with management? I mean I’ve worked for some absolutely terrible managers. In a previous job I had a manager who stole my work and passed it off as hers, bad mouthed me to make herself look good, made my coworkers cry on the regular, and threatened to take away all the best parts of a job unless I did her pet project. She caused me all kinds of stress. And even then I didn’t wish to be managed by algorithm. I’m also firmly in the camp that AI will make managers worse.

It’s common knowledge that people leave their jobs because of bad bosses. Bad management is everywhere. But algorithms aren’t much better as bosses. Just ask the Uber and DoorDash workers how they feel about algorithms as managers. So why do so many workers think that algorithms > managers? That’s hella depressing news for managers in general.

I’m also curious who is working for robots that understand feelings. Is there some kind of virtual reality manager that’s more compassionate than a human?

Clearly I need to read the full report.

Imagine yourself in five years: Will your boss become an algorithm?

I don’t have an answer to that. But workers in low wage jobs are seeing an increase in management by algorithm. From Axios:

Even the most vigilant supervisor can only watch over a few workers at one time. But now, increasingly cheap AI systems can monitor every employee in a store, at a call center or on a factory floor, flagging their failures in real time and learning from their triumphs to optimize an entire workforce.

Automating humans with AI

First, the phrase “optimize an entire workforce” should strike fear into employees across workplaces. Workers are human, they aren’t designed to be optimized. They need breaks, moments to reflect, engage, connect, and encouragement from humans. They need to be human. Optimizing strips human needs from humans. The term “optimizing” masks the brutality of it.

We’ve seen what’s happened to those working in the world’s most optimized workforce, Amazon, especially people working in warehouses and as delivery drivers. We don’t need more of it.

And yet leadership is proceeding ahead as if optimization is the holy grail of the workplace. Again from Axios:

How often is an employee going out to smoke a cigarette? How long a lunch are they taking? How long are they sitting in the lunchroom?” These are the questions clients want answered with AI software, says Kim Hartman, CEO of Surveillance Secure, a D.C.-area company that installs security systems.

Hartman says his company has put in video analytics for several area retailers and restaurants that wanted to monitor their employees’ productivity.

Employee surveillance isn’t just used to keep tabs on employees – it can also be used to discipline employees. This all happens first with low-wage workers because they have less power, and less ability to push back. It’s harder to fight the system when you can’t miss a paycheck. Once these automated systems are tested, integrated, tweaked and finessed – and they’ve collected enough data – leadership will move onto automating middle-wage jobs.

I wonder what’s going to happen to all the middle managers who oversee these workforces. Where will they go? Will they be laid off? Retrained to use AI software to manage their workforce? What is a middle manager to do at this point?

At every discussion of automating workers, I wonder why we never talk automating leadership. Here’s my proposal to push back: Automate the c-suite.

How to get a remote job (without freelancing or starting your own business)

The secret is out. Remote work is a damn good setup for workers. I’m on my third remote job. And I love it.

Remote work is all the rage right now for a simple reason: it makes the chaos of every day life a little more manageable.

It’s also good for your career.

It’s good for reducing stress.

It’s good for spending more time with people you care about.

I’m not the only one that thinks this. In the annual State of Remote Work survey, Buffer found that remote workers overwhelmingly were a content bunch:

In its State of Remote Work survey, social media management company Buffer found that 99 percent of remote workers would like to continue working remotely at least part of the time for the rest of their careers, and 95 percent would recommend it to others.

While headlines about robots taking our jobs dominate the future of work narrative, remote and flexible work is the future of work. Digital communication platforms, technology-savvy leadership, and new business models have created the infrastructure for remote work cultures and we’re not going back.

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Artificial intelligence, your career, and the job search

tl;dr: I dumped out all my thoughts on artificial intelligence, the future of work, and AI in the job search on Mac’s list career podcast.

We are living in the glory days of podcast content. I don’t even care that New York Times thinks we are at peak podcast, I am loving the variety and niche topics that podcast creators are delivering on a daily basis. There isn’t enough time in the day to listen to all the podcasts in my feed.

Right now I’m totally into season four of ZigZag podcast. The theme of redefining success resonates with me.

I’m late to this podcast series party, but I’m obsessed with Caliphate and the behind the scenes action of investigative journalism.

Having just wrote a quasi-self help book, I absolutely loved Unladylike’s How to Self Help Yourself episode, as well as How to Own your Talent with Ashely Nicole Black, as well as the hip hop Spotify playlist as a compliment to the episode, How to Be Da Baddest Bitch in Hip Hop.

And Innovation Hub shared a new perspective on how meritocracy is damaging our economy.

While I’ve been busy consuming all the podcasts, I’ve also been hosting my own tiny-but-mighty podcast for career changers and am busy guesting around on others. Most recently I jumped on the fabulous career podcast from the Pacific Northwest, Mac’s List.

I covered artificial intelligence in the job search and how new technology is reshaping our careers. I also tell you why the robots aren’t exactly taking over our jobs.

Give it a listen.