Focus on Market-Driven Skills
The market determines which skills will be valuable now and in the future. For example, right now there’s great demand for software developers, but a limited supply. As a result, entrepreneurs started schools like General Assembly, Dev Bootcamp, and Bitmaker Labs to teach people how to code and connect them for job opportunities with technology companies. This clearly isn’t a fad — employers will demand this skill for years (and possibly decades) to come.
Future-proofed skills can either be essentials (e.g., health, security, utilities, etc.) or play an important part in facilitating a drastic change in the economy, like technology (e.g., software development, wearable technology, etc.).
Even though developing schools (such as the aforementioned) and additions to school curriculum can be a good indication that these skills are of value and here to stay for the future, you don’t necessarily need to enroll in a school to learn these skills. There are Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and many informational sites (like Lifehacker U) that can provide you with information.
One last caveat before moving on: Naturally, you have to be suited for that skillset. Ideally, you’d like it. At worst, you should be better than average within a year of learning.
Remember, change is the only constant. Pay attention to the trajectory of your industry and stay on the forefront by learning new applicable technologies and skills. No industry is stagnant, so the key to being future-proofed is to make sure you’re always up-to-date or ideally, a little ahead of the curve — just enough to know what’s coming.
Learn Skills That Can Boost Profits or Reduce Costs
Any skill that increases company profits or reduces costs will always be in demand. Every business needs profit to survive. In order to become more valuable for the future, apply your skills to either helping the company generate profit or reduce costs. Software developer Patrick McKenzie writes on his blog Kalzumeus:
Instead, describe yourself by what you have accomplished for [previous] employers vis-a-vis increasing revenues or reducing costs. If you have not had the opportunity to do this yet, describe things which suggest you have the ability to increase revenue or reduce costs, or ideas to do so.
Management guru Peter Drucker identifies two parts of organizations that most roles fit into: profit centers and cost centers. You’re either helping the company increase its profits, or you are an expense. Advertiser Claude Hopkins writes about this in layman’s terms in his memoir, My Life in Advertising:
A bookkeeper is an expense. In every business expenses are kept down. I could never be worth more than any other man who could do the work I did. The big salaries were paid to salesmen, to the men who brought in orders, or to the men in the factory who reduced the costs. They showed profits, and they could command a reasonable share of those profits.
Even if your occupation is an “expense” or a “cost center”, you can be valuable by helping reduce costs. Whatever your skillset is, make sure that you frame it in a way that helps companies generate profits or in terms of efficiencies and cost savings.