As bleak as the prospect of a long winter might be, at least you can be sure that it's going to give way to spring.
It's a shame you can't be as certain about an economic rebound, a resurgence in hiring or even whether your job or employer will be secure in the coming year.
Yet there are changes and trends you can be confident will happen in the near future, and they can be used to design career strategies to weather even the most prolonged economic chill, according to technology trends consultant Daniel Burrus, author of Flash Foresight. (To read an excerpt from the book, click here.)
"A career strategy based on uncertainty has high risk. When the level of uncertainty is high, if you put off making decisions … it can keep you from moving forward both personally and organizationally," he said in an interview.
"It has been never more important to ask what we can know for certain, and plan from there," said Mr. Burrus, who is chief executive officer of Burrus Research Associates Inc. in Hartland, Wis.
Stay current or die
Over the next five years, technology will transform how we sell, train, collaborate, and market products and services, he said.
If your company is not transforming itself, he said, you run the risk of working for a Blockbuster Video, an Eastman Kodak or any of a long list of businesses that were doing great but stuck too much to their existing patterns rather than building in new directions based on clear trends.
"The important distinction is that most companies say they are transforming themselves when they are just making adjustments and continuing to do what they already do," Mr. Burrus said.
"To be a leader and a winner you need to be willing to lead a transformation."
The shift away from desktops or laptops to smartphones or tablets as peoples' primary computers, for example, is a huge change, especially when combined with mobility that allows their use anywhere.
More importantly, it means there will be a bigger market for computer applications, not only for sales and customer support but also for more traditional jobs. For example, maintenance workers could go to a job with a tablet and tap into an inventory of parts available and complete all the paper work all on the same screen.
If your employer isn't up-to-date on technological shifts, you might want to look around to see which other companies are more tuned in to the trends, Mr. Burrus advised.
"Companies of any size and age can wake up to the opportunity of the future. It's not about the age of leadership or the employees," he added. "You're young if you see opportunity."
Take the long view
"A strategy based on things that will definitely happen lowers your risk, and you can move ahead with certainty," Mr. Burrus said.
For example, Canada has millions of baby boomers over 55, who control a large amount of wealth. "We could do what most businesses and people in their careers have always done, and let the change happen and then react and put out fires," he said. "What I suggest doing is anticipating based on the hard trends."
As boomers retire, there will be growing opportunity to sell leisure activities, products and services. An aging population will also spark a need for more mobility aids and geriatric care; jobs in health care and elder care, for example, will likely increase.
As for the broader economic view, Mr. Burrus argues that economists' predictions about recovery have been frustratingly unreliable for the simple reason that we're in an era of profound technological change whose effects are not cyclical, but linear.
"Once you get a smartphone, you're not going back to a dumb phone," he explained. "Once people in India get refrigerators, they're not likely to give them up. These are hard trends that we can be sure will happen, as opposed to soft trends, that might happen."
Such trends have had, and will continue to have, a pronounced impact on products and services, as well as the types of jobs and careers flowing from them.
Stress test your career
Mr. Burrus advises you to prepare for change by asking key questions about your job, your employer and your industry, such as:
– Does my employer accept the need to embrace the technological changes coming our way?
– Does the company understand the transformations needed, or is it defending the status quo?
– Is the company leadership actively developing opportunities to use technology in new ways?
– Am I keeping up with new technologies, and thus becoming more employable? Am I becoming competent in them?
– Is my union or industry association tuned in to change? In the past, he noted, the key focus of labour unions was to keep workers employed in the same job; now their focus should be on keeping workers employable by pressing for companies to stay at the edge of technology and provide skills upgrading to keep employees relevant in the new job market.
–What can I be sure of about my job? Job categories will remain, but the key will be what happens to jobs as the landscape changes.
In short, Mr. Burrus said: "It's all about foresight."
TRENDS TO WATCH
Most mobile phones now have Internet browsers and computer functions. This means jobs in marketing, sales, communication, education and training should have mobile capability in mind.
Tablet brochures and manuals
Easy-to-view small screens make it possible to do without paper for sales and service employees, and open new opportunities for advertising.
There will be growing opportunities for development, sales and distribution of applications for smartphones, tablets, and TV operating systems.
Three-dimensional capabilities for smartphones and tablets will spur wide-scale acceptance. The market will grow rapidly for 3-D applications in military, medicine, fashion, architecture and entertainment.
Using remote Net servers rather than in-house computing capacity is a major shift in how companies obtain and maintain software. As business switches to private clouds for IT, human resource, and sales management, jobs will change.
Another growth area will be providing businesses with remote access to powerful software programs, without having the expense of an in-house IT staff.
Thanks to faster wireless networks, the market will take off for applications such as remote meter reading, surveillance, inventory control, and point-of-sale promotions.