Career Development: An Ongoing Maintenance Program

During the economic downturn and continuing post-recession there has been an increased need for career development programs and services as individuals who were laid-off, some after many years in one career, found themselves faced with an uncertain future.  Many began the often challenging task of re-assessing and creating new career patterns and determining how to integrate their work style, their personal needs, their values, and their sense of self as they planned for their future. 

Some individuals were fortunate in that they continued to work for organizations who structured internal career progress for their employees, providing assistance as employees managed their careers, including growth and succession opportunities.  And other workers, whether receiving this kind of support from their organizations or not, have always maintained a watchful eye on their careers – regularly checking under the hood and performing ‘maintenance’ -  keeping their skills sharp and up-to-date, networking and building strong relationships, and continuously being aware of their personal goals and aspirations.

Oftentimes, when we toss about the term “Career Development,” we envision white-collar or professional employees, whether they’re starting out in their field or have hit a mid-career snag.  The need for career development and planning, however, applies to others who many times we don’t consider:  individuals with disabilities, low-income workers, and single parents who are sometimes the first in their families to hold steady employment. 

I’ve spent quite a bit of time over the years speaking at Job Readiness Workshops or meeting one-on-one with folks who fall into these latter groups, and I’ve assisted through groups such as Louisiana Rehabilitation Services, the U.S. Business Leadership Network, Dress for Success, and local non-profits that work with single parents. 

While the educational levels, desired salary and earning potential may vary amongst the job seekers mentioned thus far, all of them can benefit from evaluating some basic items as they ponder issues related to personal career development. 

Whether I’ve had conversations with workshop attendees, job seekers or even my own employees, I’ve encouraged everyone to begin by asking themselves the following five questions:

  • What interests and motivates me?  Am I energized by working with the public or does it exhaust me?  Would I enjoy working out doors or perhaps doing something that requires mechanical or technical prowess? Am I interested in travel or long hours, or do I want to work a strict 8 – 5 schedule?
  • What am I good at?  What are some of the unique skills or personality traits that I bring to the workforce?  Do I have a realistic understanding of my job readiness in regards to the basics -  reading, writing, math and my technology skills?  And if I work in a fast-moving field, is my skill set up-to-date?
  • What can I do that will blend these two together? What type of organization/industry and what type of job will allow me to do what I’m good at – and what I like to do? 
  • How will I take charge of my own journey? Finding a job is but the first step, so what are some things I will be responsible for doing to stay on the right path?  What skills will I need to further develop, perhaps on my own and at my own expense, as the years progress?  What is my end goal and do I have a plan to get there?
  • How will I manage my career into the future? How will I continue to juggle and balance the challenges that everyone faces – work, family and personal needs?  Am I prepared to handle conflicting demands and do I have personal resilience as well as a good support system?

Whether someone is starting out or starting over, the first step of any career development planning starts with the individual.  But just as when we drive a newly purchased car off the lot, we need to make a commitment if we want to keep our career running at peak level by performing regular, ongoing maintenance.

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