We went digital and we’re still unemployed. Now what?

three-dimensional character working on computer connectet to globe
Welcome to Digitopolis

I wrote this blog for anyone who is disappointed with the current jobs market or feels that the American dream is lost forever. Let me start by assuring you that all is not lost. Get over that absolutist thinking right now, because it’s sapping your creativity and robbing you of happiness. I hope my words will not only leave you with hope, but give you a roadmap for a successful American dream. Let’s talk. Shall we?

I’m sure you’ve heard all the hype during the last few years about the world becoming digital. Thomas L. Friedman wrote his famous book, The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century, and everyone wondered what to do about that wake-up call. One of his key points was that the playing field is now level and that we’ll have to compete with people overseas who are not only as educated as our children, but more so and willing to work much harder for next to nothing.

Also, if you’ve been conscious since 2007, you’ve noticed that we’re in one of the worst recessions of our collective memory. I’m sure folks who grew up during the Great Depression will beg to differ with us rug rats, but this is the worst economic downturn our generation has ever seen. With the debt crisis in Greece and other members of the EU, the recession also promises to deepen. So, how do we confront these new realities without growing so depressed that we spend the rest of our lives popping Lexapro and playing Farmville every day?

I think two things are necessary. One thing is that younger people need to take better advantage of their education, and think outside the box. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that your degree entitles you to a job. It doesn’t.

If you’re young, educated and don’t have a job, you may want to consider incorporating yourself as a business and contracting your services. You didn’t get all that expertise just to throw it way. Get out there and find the opportunities; they exist right now. You’re probably not going to find them through the classifieds or Monster.com, but you may find them by writing about your own creative solutions on social networking sites such as LinkedIn. Your key, in this arena, is to attract the right kind of attention.

Furthermore, with the advent of the Cloud, wireless networks and mobile devices, several new career fields are likely to emerge over the next five to ten years. For example, you can already earn income by designing and creating mobile applications or writing instructions on their use. You can also derive income from other types of online services, but you have to be aggressive in finding and pursuing the opportunities. In essence, you must become your own sales force.

Those of us who are middle aged may feel lucky to have a job, but we don’t need to languish. We can exercise creativity within our careers by sharing our knowledge with young people who are willing to learn. We can find fulfillment in mentoring, and this is the kind of networking that may eventually lead to additional opportunities. It starts, however, with volunteering your time.

Those who have left the workforce through retirement have earned their rest, but I’ve noticed something. The people who live the longest, happiest lives stay at least partially involved in the work force or socially engaged for several years into their retirements. That’s not to say older people who are unemployed are irresponsible. There are many potential circumstances that may mitigate against their continued employment: sickness and age discrimination to name a few.

Older Americans do not have to sit on the sidelines and wait for the world to leave them behind. They can get in on some of the action too, and it may actually be good for them to some extent. Learning new skills preserves cognitive function. In the case of our older peers, however, I would say they should only maintain the lifestyle to which they’ve grown accustomed. In other words, work to live in comfort and take plenty of time off. You’ve earned it.

For all Americans, this kind of out-of-the-box thinking will become far more important for at least the remainder of this decade. Most of the traditional manufacturing jobs have permanently moved overseas. Those that return to the United States will be high-tech jobs that require the kind of creative and technical thinking I propose today.

The other thing is that the U.S. must collaborate with businesses to create new opportunities based on emerging technologies, green and otherwise, here and abroad. There is no turning back to a predigital world. The playing field is permanently leveled, and now we must compete on a global scale with people who are just as bright as we are, but far more cost competitive.

To compete with a low-wage, global workforce, we must lower our own costs. That is no small feat, but I think we can achieve it through greater efficiency. The way to become more efficient is through technological innovation, identifying best practices and implementing them in every aspect of our lives. We don’t necessarily have to give up our standard of living, but we need to think things through carefully instead of taking everything for granted.

I also think the leveling of the playing field may work in our favor. The digital revolution has made it easier than ever to render services and collaborate 24/7, regardless of location. Technology is exploding right now and revolutionizing every aspect of our lives. It’s unsettling, but for those who keep a watchful eye out for opportunities, there is a great abundance of them.

So, what about that roadmap I promised? Well, here’s a start, but it’s by no means complete. I suggest the following steps:

  1. Take the time to figure out what you really want to do for the rest of your life.
  2. Draw up a feasible plan. If necessary, ask your family and friends for advice.
  3. Network on sites such as LinkedIn, but keep your message tailored to your career goals.
  4. Write or blog about the career in which you are interested, and announce it everywhere.
  5. Volunteer your time to help others and find opportunities to assist organizations.
  6. When you’ve done something fantastic, let everyone know about it.
  7. Talk to an accountant, incorporate yourself and contract your services.
  8. Create a web site solely dedicated to discussing the services you offer.
  9. Build up a portfolio of previous clients and projects.
  10. Write case studies of your success stories.

Notice I did not advise you to write a résumé. Honestly, paper-based résumés may no longer be the most effective means of finding work. You’re better off posting something like a résumé, as requested, on a company site. You’ll have to be responsive to their requested format. It’s almost as if you’re writing a miniature response to a request for proposals (RFP). What’s more, companies have the option of grading the conformance of your online résumé to their exact specifications. I have some ground rules for writing an effective résumé, but I’ll have to discuss them in another blog.

Today, one of the most important things you can do to find work seems almost counter-intuitive: get involved with a social network. One of the best networks these days is LinkedIn. If you can get recommendations from previous employers on LinkedIn, you may have a significantly better chance of finding work than if you send a paper résumé, unsolicited, to a company.

Moreover, you can find career groups in LinkedIn that regularly post job openings specifically in your career field. It seems obvious, but if you help someone on LinkedIn, and they have a job opening, you could be on the top of their list.

Finally, one of the most effective ways to use LinkedIn or any other social network is to write often on your area of interests. Write with passion about your career field, but make sure you do your research first or at least write to seek advice. Also, if you use someone else’s ideas, provide proper attribution and limit the amount you use. Remember, people are reading your profile or blog to find out what you think, not what someone else thinks.

I hope my words have inspired someone to find their niche or fulfill a life-long dream. Thank you.