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Conservative Career Advice: Learn to Zig and to Zag

March 15, 2004

Baseball plant night shipping clerk and nightwatchman
"Gofer" for university registrar's office
Unemployed voluntarily
Naval officer
Trucking company supervisor
Plastics company summer job
Oil company office position
Unemployed voluntarily
Investment banking start-up
Conservative publishing company
Unemployed involuntarily
Executive of private company in food industry

If you look at the above string of different jobs, traditional career counselors cannot find any connection from one to the other, except for one element. They reflect my "career". (A few years ago, one of my management consulting clients, after hearing me describe this list, asked "Can't you keep a job?!")

As the false accusations of the detriment that out sourcing or moving manufacturing overseas causes our economy continues to move into election year politics, I think it is time to quit finger pointing and instead, figure out an action plan of how to best manage it.

We hear where Hillary Clinton and Michigan democrat legislators are calling for tax cuts targeted at those companies out-sourcing or moving facilities. Ironically, this is their admission that lower tax rates are the answer in some cases. The hypocrisy of those proposals is that if lower taxes will entice the companies out-sourcing, why not also give them to the companies staying so they can increase their local employment?

So how do we conservatives handle the out-sourcing issues? If we do not make it part of our conservative conversations, then we yield the issues to the protectionists and the government intervention proponents.

I propose that we need to completely re-define what a business career is, whether it is blue collar or white collar. No longer can someone expect to begin a job and stay with it for 30-40 years and then retire without subjecting themselves, their families, and their livelihood to the risk of becoming outdated in the economy.

In my employee and management training work throughout the years, I always bring up the issue of change. Change in personal lives, change in work lives, change in technology, change in health, change in … (you name it). I start with a simple question: "Is your personal (or work or family or …) life any different today than it was three years ago? Only 36 months ago!"

Not once has anyone not responded with a "yes". I then ask if their company's customers have different demands than they had three years ago. Again, all "Yes's". I go on and on asking the same question until all aspects of our lives are covered. The "Yes's" keep pouring out, as the discussions turn to describing all the changes, good and bad.

After the discussion quiets down, I then ask "What are you doing now to prepare for the range of changes coming in the next three years?" Quiet follows.

My graduate school professor and leadership training mentor, Tom Peters, loves to say "If it ain't broke, break it!" I propose the same career advice. Never put yourself in a position of doing the same work requiring the same skills for 2-3 years in a row.

I once had a client that was a commercial bakery. When I was brought in, I met some employees who had been doing the same tasks for 10+ years. I helped develop a program that cross-trained employees in all aspects of the bakery: production, safety, quality, shipping, accounting, sanitation, etc. Initially, veteran employees were stressed out with the prospect of having to do something different. A few adventurous employees signed up and learned new tasks. Other soon followed. That plant recently shut down. One of those veteran employees who had cross trained told me that the cross training/learning new skills she developed have given her more opportunities for finding a new job than she ever realized it would.

We need to educate our children and ourselves and our friends that learning to zig and to zag in our careers by constantly learning new skills is the only way to reduce the "out sourcing" / "downsizing" threats we all face in our changing economy. To remain in one job doing the same tasks is a prescription for personal career disaster.

Sam T. Harper S graduated cum laude from Vanderbilt University. Following a tour in the US Navy and a stint as Operations Manager at Roadway Express, he earned his MBA from Stanford University Graduate School of Business. He was a contributor to "In Search of Excellence," the best selling business book of all time. Sam was also Manager, Economic Planning & Analysis at Sohio Petroleum, Partner and Chief Financial Officer at investment-banking firm Bridgemere Capital, and Chief Operating Officer of the Institute for Contemporary Studies, a San Francisco Bay Area-based think tank and international publishing firm that specializes in self-governing and entrepreneurial public policy. Sam was a chairman of the San Francisco Republican Party and the GOP co-host of California Political Review on KALW-FM in San Francisco. For nine years, Sam was the co-owner of the Tennessee based Institute for Local Effectiveness Training, LLC - a management consulting, training, and coaching firm. He recently was the campaign manager for a conservative candidate for the Tennessee House of Representatives who successfully beat a ten year incumbent. He is currently the Executive Vice President of Finance and Development for a Tennessee based company that is a leader in food safety services.