Survival Instincts

Eat or be eaten in today’s job market

by Russell T. Westcott

"Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up knowing it must run faster than the fastest lion or be killed. Every morning, a lion awakens knowing it must outrun the slowest gazelle or starve to death. It doesn’t matter if you are a lion or a gazelle—when the sun comes up you’d better be running."1

An ominous opening, I admit, but doesn’t this passage ring true in the world we live in? For individuals and organizations, the hard-knock economy takes its toll on basic survival. Even as unemployment claims slowly decline, we hear about the thousands who gave up looking for a job.

Because of the long-lasting economic crunch, employers have learned how to survive with fewer people on the payroll. Rapid technology advances have lessened the need for lower-level, nontechnical positions and increased the need for highly trained and skilled workers. We hear of critical shortages of qualified employees, while thousands of former workers remain unemployed for not having the required skills, knowledge and certifications. These are symptoms of a changed professional landscape. While there are several possible root causes of unemployment, one of the easiest to remedy involves updating individual knowledge, skills and experience. Are you running yet or are you still asleep?

I am continually amazed and disturbed that a number of my friends and colleagues do nothing to sharpen their skills or enrich their knowledge. Continuous learning is a must in today’s professional jungle. Complacency and procrastination are your deadly enemies. Watching TV for hours each day does provide a drizzle of useful information, but it is a poor substitute for studying or learning something new and useful. Although I earnestly work at learning something new each day, I admit that the rapidly changing technology used to gather, access and store information presents ongoing challenges for me.

I grew up in the ancient world of punch-card tabulation and progressed into the mainframe computer realm. I stumbled my way into the chaotic domain of PCs, and now I am being pulled (kicking and screaming) into the exploding maze of hold-it-in-your-hand and store-it-all-in-a-cloud era of IT.

As I sputter and fume about my computer’s relentless pursuit to drive me crazy, I can still remember horse-drawn wagons peddling milk, bread, produce, meat, ice and knife sharpening, and their welcome arrival to my home. Although I’m in a business of facilitating change, I confess that I exhibit some resistance to substantially altering my familiar lifestyle.

Recently, my local supermarket implemented an option to buy groceries online and pick them up at a station outside or have them delivered. It’s unclear whether customers will buy more or less using this new service. Self-checkout counters have been in place for a number of years and have replaced friendly and helpful people to a degree. Now, only one employee is needed to assist and instruct the occasional technology-challenged buyer. Computerized checkout confuses some customers and forces others to wait in long lines at the remaining full-service counters operated by cashiers.

In 1966, Time declared: "Remote shopping, while entirely feasible, will flop."2 Well then, allow me to get back in line where a friendly human will greet me with a smile. The self-checkout lines sometimes appear more jammed than lines for cashier service. As I write this, I realize that a learning opportunity is passing me by. I probably should learn how to use self-checkout before all the staffed counters disappear.

A friend of mine spent much of his work life in the auto repair industry until a few years ago. He bounced around the industry as auto dealers downsized or evaporated until he was eventually laid off as a parts-room supervisor. Finding a job in the same field was unrealistic. But he needed a solution quickly because he provided food and a home for a family of four and his savings were dwindling.

Instead of being drawn into a quagmire of debt and despair, my friend explored another option: What would it take to obtain a position in the expanding field of healthcare? He learned he would need schooling to pass an exam and become licensed in the discipline he selected. Six months later, and less than two weeks before receiving his credentials, he landed a job at a prestigious healthcare center in town just three miles from his home. His enthusiasm and many talents enriched his initial job, and he was recently promoted. Although he’s not making the same salary he earned while working for dealerships, he’s happily on his way to better times and higher pay.

The 21st century translation of the adage that "time marches on" should be "time streaks onward." Where are you in the great game of life? More importantly, what are you doing about it? Are you striving to be ahead of the pack, or are you trailing behind? Read the passage under the headline again. Commit to continual learning for self-betterment. You’ll never guess how much fun it can be until you do it. It’s often much better than what you remember from your early days in school, and it beats TV. If you’re unemployed or might be, learn something new and useful instead of merely waiting for the phone to ring. Wake up and start running. Q


  1. Martis Jones, The Prodigal Principle: The Essential Handbook for Managing Personal and Professional Change, Worthbooks Publication Group, 1995.
  2. Mark Spoonauer, "10 Worst Tech Predictions of All Time," LiveScience, www.livescience.com/38876-10-worst-tech-predictions-of-all-time.html.

--Satyaveni Katta, 01-25-2016

Its so true in todays world. Unless you have the additional value adding skills there is no way you stand out from the crowd.
--stanley, 01-05-2015

I really like this article, when I was reading it, I thought it was so familiar but that's true. You cant go anywhere unless you gotta do something!
--Tina, 01-02-2015

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