Is Your Skill Set Starving?

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Analysts predict that 100 million Americans will become involved in continuing education in 2004. Worldwide, the growth of education has been projected to be about 18% per year. Everybody's learning. How about you?

The message is clear: To stay competitive, you must keep your skills current. To stay productive within your work environment, you must evolve your knowledge of new technologies to meet the challenges of your job.

Many of you feel that your basic RPG skills are sufficient: "They got me this far! They're good enough to get me where I'm going!" Right?

Wrong. What you've been surviving on may help you eventually get your company where it wants to go, but your boss is impatiently watching the lean, properly fed companies pass his company.

Is there something wrong with those basic skills? Absolutely not! But if you're starving your mind of the variety of tasty educational offerings out there, your career cannot maintain good health.

Help Text Is Junk Food

Most of us in the iSeries and AS/400 world are accustomed to scant educational resources, short project deadlines, tight budgets, and management impatience. We have a slew of backlogged projects, endless lists of maintenance tasks, and very little time to consider new ways of learning. For many of us, the sum total of the educational opportunities that come our way consists of excursions into Help text. This learning technique often helps to solve a problem, but it seldom allows you to go much further.

Help text is the junk food of any technical education program. Sure, you can sustain yourself with it! Sure, you can actually complete new projects using nothing but Help text! But what are you doing to really grow your knowledge base of technical information? When was the last time you actually fed your education a decent meal? How long has it been since you've consumed a good technical manual? A comprehensive course in a new technology? A hands-on, how-to seminar? A lab? Without the basic nutrients of a personal educational plan to advance your skills, your brain is getting fat on junk food--just fat, no muscle. Your efficiency as a technical expert within your organization is suffering.

A New Education Diet Plan

In the post-dot-com recession, educational budgets were slashed, personnel were furloughed or fired, and management trimmed expenses by outsourcing as many new projects as possible. These short-term tactics--like the substitution of Help text in place of real education--can't sustain an organization over the long haul. Now, as the recession is ending, it's time to sit down with your management team and start a process of charting where your in-house expertise needs to be to meet the technical business challenges that are ahead.

But by no means do you want to imply to your management that your technical skills are somehow "obsolete." First of all, a statement like that is inaccurate. If you're an RPG programmer, RPG is alive and well. If you're a Lotus administrator, the future is wide open. But hybrid technologies--technologies to blend the advantages of new tools--are opportunities that are too valuable to pass up.

Your company doesn't have to completely re-tool the entire infrastructure with massive technologies like WebSphere or .NET to meet its technical information challenges. There are plenty of hybrid technologies that can propel it into the future, using the best of legacy tools and the latest software tools and packages that are coming into the marketplace. But in order to make use of them, your company needs to feed your technical brain, advance your understanding of the opportunities, and provide you with some educational opportunities based upon its immediate goals for the future.

Once those goals are identified, your job is to devise the educational diet that will meet them. Then comes the hard part! You've got to schedule, attend, study, and learn!

Building Strong Bones for the Future

You can't build the information systems of tomorrow with the same tools you were trained to use in the 1990s. You can build upon the technical base that you have, but you have to discard your diet of junk food if you hope to grow strong and to achieve the goals that you and your company have set.

The future belongs to the educated. Make sure you're one of them! Make certain you have a plan that aligns your personal educational goals with your company's business goals. Then, go for it! Get in class and join the 100 million Americans who are building their careers by feeding their minds.

Thomas M. Stockwell is Editor in Chief of MC Press.