At the recent ACS Leadership Institute, I participated in many discussions on the current and future state of the employment market for chemists. Much was as I thought – the employment market is perhaps starting to rebound, but there is a lot of pent-up demand. It will be a long time before it’s a job seeker’s market again, but there is hope. One point that hit home with me was made by John Borchardt, ACS Career Consultant. John said “Companies are much less willing to tolerate employees’ learning curves.”
It used to be that companies would hire capable, accomplished people, then train them as to how to do the job. When it was time for the person to move up, they company would provide training in leadership and management, or whatever was necessary to prepare them for the next step on the career ladder.
As the employment market shifted, companies started cutting back on training. For a while they supported it, by allowing employees time off to take training classes, and sometimes paying for classes taught by outside organizations.
In today’s world, companies expect you to walk in not only ready to do the job, but having already proven yourself by doing similar things successfully in previous positions. If there are parts of the job you are less familiar with, you are expected to learn how to do those on your own time, at your own expense. If you’re lucky, your supervisor and co-workers will point out where you need to improve, so you can get the training and experience you need to be successful – before it’s too late.
As you go through your career, you will find things that you are good at, and things that you are not so good at. Skills that were not important to you early in your career may become more important later on. Things you didn’t enjoy doing when you were younger may become more enjoyable later on. You are never done learning and growing, and therefore need to constantly evaluate both where you are and where you want to go.
You should take advantage of every training opportunity that comes along. If your company provides training, wonderful! Often if you can prove that taking that training is going to provide a benefit to the company, you will be able to get both approval and support.
If that doesn’t work, offer to split the costs with your employer. Maybe they pay the fee and travel expenses, but you agree to work extra hours ahead of time to cover the work that you will miss while you are gone.
If that doesn’t work, there are always low cost options. Look into spending your lunch hour listening to a webinar, or taking an evening course at a local community college.
Depending on what it is you are trying to learn, you might also be able to take on a volunteer position that will give you practical experience in some new area that you don’t get in your job, and eventually will lead to accomplishments that you can list on your resume.
It’s up to you to determine what important skills are missing from your personal experience, or which ones you need to get better at, and then find ways to get training and experience in those skills. Even if what you learn is you really don’t like doing those particular types of task, which in itself is valuable information, you can use when you plan the next stage in your career path.
This article was written by Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants LLC. Lisa is a technical writer/editor and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists,” published by Oxford University Press.