Skills Matter- Differentiate Yourself

IMG_1032The past 50 years have substantially changed the labor market, and employment prospects, for employees in the developed world. Automation and technology have reduced the number of employees needed to perform a specific task, by increasing the productivity each employee can achieve. The tremendous expansion, or I would suggest “bubble”, of organizations offering higher education have meant that college and professional degrees are available to more people than ever. In fact, I often laughed by butt off while briefly working in county government….because EVERYONE had masters degrees or PhDs. Seriously, both of the administrative assistants in the department I ran were working on post secondary degrees. One a masters degree and the other a doctorate. Three years later they have earned those degrees, but I would venture that neither is more employable as a result….. and they are earning essentially the same income……as before they received the degrees.

For my grandparents generation, college degrees offered the ability to differentiate oneself from the general population….who most likely did not attend college. There were relatively few colleges and universities offering degrees, and those institutions were well regarded. Along came the diploma mills, and somewhat lower standards, and degrees don’t offer nearly as much differentiation between prospective employees. (Please don’t take my comments as saying that all colleges/universities are diploma mills, many still offer a quality education.) The criteria for many job openings changed once most of the applicants had received degrees. It set the bar higher at many employers, which then required the applicable degree, but the change also forced the employer to use other criteria to differentiate the applicants.

As I was saying before, many changes have taken place in the labor/employment market. The internet has allowed employees to work remotely. Most employees change jobs, and often companies, every few years. Typical “labor” tasks on assembly lines and other factory jobs have been largely automated. What hasn’t changed? Your skills matter more than ever!

Why Skills

IMG_2797If given the choice today between a great paying job and mastering a unique/marketable skill, I would chose the skill hands down. My reasoning is simple. A particular job may end, and with it your income from that job. With the availability of seemingly endless amounts of data on the internet, the barriers to learning new skills have fallen dramatically. You can find Youtube videos and online tutorials covering a huge range of topics. The internet even allows you to take free online courses from well known colleges and upstarts like Kahn Academy. I have known several computer programmers, coders, and one robot fanatic, who taught themselves these skills and are now making well over $100k per year…….all without a formal college education.

Why is this possible? Because under the surface this world is a meritocracy. Sure it matters who you know, and knowing the “right” people will give you a leg up……but results and skills matter more. A great case in point is a friend of mine who has been obsessed with robotics for years. He doesn’t have a formal degree in the topic, but has been building them as a hobby for years. He has far exceeded the 10,000 hour rule, and caught the industry’s eye because of his involvement in competitions and online forums. He is very marketable now and consults for a range of companies. What’s more is that he can afford to only take on the projects that interest him. Only taking on projects that interest him and able to command very good rates for his time. Now that sounds like the ultimate in flexibility.

So far this discussion has largely surrounded the technology industry, but it needn’t be. Various forms of craftsmen are another great example of very marketable skills. Think of folks like finish carpenters, welders, plumbers, electricians, etc. Some of these professions do require a license, but the skills are the key to getting those licenses. Put in the time developing your skills and the license or certification will come in time. What’s more is that the license or certification of your particular skill will come with you wherever you go. They don’t typically stay with the company, which makes perfect sense because you are the one with the skill.

Differentiate Yourself

IMG_2795Putting in the time is the only limitation to you learning a great new skill. The availability of funds and factors (like race and gender) are no longer limitations. The only question is if you are willing to put in the time and focus to learn new skills. If you are very busy, it may be tough to find the time between work……family…..other hobbies and commitments. This is all leading up to say that I am going to start taking free online courses on topics that interest me. I love to learn, and am a constant reader. When we aren’t on the road, I typically read three or four books a week. I just do it for myself, not really to make myself more marketable. That being said, it never hurts to learn new skills. I will likely start off with either a specialized history course or a class about economics in developing countries. I’ll let you know how it goes, but if I can take three or four courses per year….it should help satisfy my craving to learn….while continuing to build the mental models that Charlie Munger often discusses. Flexible Independence and the internet age were made for each other!

What skills have you learned? Which skills would you still like to learn?

(Note: We are enjoying the second week of our roadtrip.  The pictures in this post were from a great night at The Union on the UW-Madison Campus.  Good times, amazing friends, great weather, boats and beer.  What’s not to love?! The swing trades are going well also.  I hope you’re each having a good week.)

15 thoughts on “Skills Matter- Differentiate Yourself

  1. Financial Coach Brad

    When I ran my company (ran for 18 years, sold it 3 years ago) I would always prefer someone with experience – even if it was “on the side” type stuff – versus someone who had a degree or certifications. Some people are really good studiers so do well in school and on tests. Sometimes people don’t but are passionate about an area and spend their time learning it whether they get paid for it or not. Those are the people I wanted!

    Great topic!
    Financial Coach Brad recently posted…Life insurance: Options, Needs, and CostsMy Profile

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    1. Income Surfer Post author

      Thanks for the comment Brad, and I’m glad you enjoyed the post. As a business owner I can imagine those are the people you wanted. As an added plus, I am sure you viewed those that developed skills on their own and being more driven and hungry than the others. Well said! I hope the rest of your week finishes off well

      -Bryan

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  2. Income Surfer

    I should mention that this concept doesn’t only apply to skills among the sciences or technology. The same could be said for being able to value businesses, trade stocks, sales experience, etc. I used to know an artist who makes his money by trading and brokering precious gems, and have a friend that makes his money by trading options in the equity markets. Those activities allow each of them to live the life they want and work on projects that they are passionate about. Now that they are mastering those skills, they always have the potential for an income stream which can’t be taken away from them.
    -Bryan
    Income Surfer recently posted…Skills Matter- Differentiate YourselfMy Profile

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  3. Graham @ Reverse The Crush

    I really enjoyed this post, Bryan. I agree 100% about choosing skill-building over a higher paying job. I’ve tried pursue jobs that I could learn something or build skills from.

    I always liked technology and wanted to build marketing and sales skills early in my career, so I worked in retail for a telecommunications company. Then, I wanted to learn about investing, so I worked in mutual fund sales, and worked worked for the brokerage. Now, I’m working on digital communications skills. We’ll see what happens next.

    Thanks for sharing the beautiful photos from your trip. Sounds like and looks like you’re having an amazing time.
    Graham @ Reverse The Crush recently posted…Dividend Income Update for June 2017My Profile

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    1. Income Surfer Post author

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment Graham. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Your employment history sounds a bit like my own. We’ve each taken jobs more for the experience and what we can learn, than the paycheck. I know that has worked out great for me so far, and I suspect you’d say the same. Funny that you mentioned sales experience. Sales is one of the most universal things in business, whether you are selling yourself…a consulting services contract…..or a product. I wanted it also, and took a job helping to run a small startup with the understanding that I would get plenty of time in the field on sales calls. There is no substitute for those sales calls, but i’ll never forget the look on my family’s face when I told them I had “reduced myself” to that of a salesman. Haha
      -Bryan

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  4. Jay

    Could not agree with you more on this! I think the value of skills is hugely under-rated. For me, learning a little bit more about how to set up a WordPress site and email list has made a big difference to growing my audience, which is starting to reap many benefits. It’s an exciting time to be alive if you are willing to go out there and take hold of your future! Thanks for the inspiring post, it’s a great reminder to keep growing.
    Jay recently posted…Trend Following Trade Ideas for June 2017 (Part 3)My Profile

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    1. Income Surfer Post author

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post Jay, and appreciate you taking the time to read/comment. There aren’t really a lot of excuses, are there? Especially when compared to a few decades ago. I’m glad you’re having success with your audience. I’ve been enjoying your trading posts ever since we decided to put some capital to use on short term swing trades. Have a great weekend
      -Bryan

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  5. FerdiS

    I earned my PhD in 1996 and have no regrets having gone all the way… in fact, I don’t think I would’ve landed my current job at a premier animation studio (since 2002) if it were not for that educational foundation. We helped create the industry.

    Now is a little different, at least in my field. There are vocational schools that teach the production skills the industry needs. So, in principle, I agree with the premise of your article, at least as far as industries go that already exist.

    I would venture to suggest that there are industries, so far only imagined, that would benefit from the expertise that advanced tertiary degrees can offer.

    Reply
    1. Income Surfer Post author

      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment Ferdi, and especially for providing insight into your industry. I appreciate your comments about mature/existing industries, rather than those fresh from the R&D lab. Something to think about for sure. Have a great weekend!
      -Bryan

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  6. Amber tree

    Keeping your skills up to date is a must. Recent years, I moved from a traditional project manager to a Product owner with a lot of digital experience. I expect this to help me the next years.

    Other than that, attitude matters as well. Be open minded, pay attention to the feelings/input of others.

    Reply
    1. Income Surfer Post author

      Absolutely AT. It’s not just about skills, but also about working with other people. If you can’t work with people, or communicate effectively, you aren’t likely to be very marketable or in demand. I hope you’re having a great weekend!
      -Bryan

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  7. Meow @ Money With Meow

    I’ve been focusing on my “soft skills” lately. I just finished reading a book by Richard Cialdini called “Influence”, which was a very enlightening psychology book about how people can get others to comply. It was eye-opening not just from a personal finance perspective but also from a human one.

    So yes- never stop reading, never stop learning!
    Meow @ Money With Meow recently posted…4 Financial Scams Exposed: What to Look Out ForMy Profile

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    1. Income Surfer Post author

      Thanks for sharing your book recommendation Meow, and I’m glad you are always learning. I am certain that trait will serve you well in the coming decades. (as an aside, some of my favorite books aren’t personal finance or business. It is incredible how you can learn something in a different field….and your brain puts it together with something completely dissimilar.) Hope you’re having a great week
      -Bryan

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    1. Income Surfer Post author

      Welcome B and thanks for taking the time to read/comment. I’m glad you enjoyed the post, and yeah we love UW and the Madison area. We’re back pretty much every summer, and never leave disappointed. Hope you’re having an outstanding week!
      -Bryan

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