How to Translate Your Skills for Work in Today's Growing Industries

Joe Watson, author of "Where The Jobs Are Now"

transferable skillsThere is no job fairy who's going to come and magically change the situation so everyone can get back to work in exactly the same jobs they used to have. In order to get back to work, with an eye toward lasting career stability, you have to go where the growth is. The key growth industries are: health care, biotechnology, green energy, education, security, information technology and government. The scary part for most people is how to make the first move towards an unknown growth industry.

The shift towards a new role in a new industry can be daunting. The first step is to determine whether you are looking to simply translate your existing skill set to a new industry or looking to learn a new skill set and then move into a new industry. Either choice will require that you acquire a significant understanding of your targeted growth industry.

What are my transferable skills?

It is easy to confuse the need to translate your existing skills with the need to learn new ones. It is in this confusion that many people abandon a logical move towards growth industries, thinking that they don't have the time to return to school for several months or years to learn a new skill. The ability to draw a distinction between the need to translate skills and the need to learn new skills can be the difference between moving quickly or slowly into a new growth industry career.

Translating your existing skills into a new industry is not as hard as it appears. There's no reason an accountant from Wall Street can't find another accounting position at a government agency or a health care establishment or a university. Will the compensation be as much as what the Wall Street firm paid? Maybe not, but the salary will still be good, the job will be secure, you'll get your benefits back, and you may even have a solid pension.

Here are some of the jobs that are performed almost the same way regardless of industry: administrative personnel, truck driver, Web design, auditor, shipping/receiving, customer service, payroll clerk, general maintenance, laborer, heavy equipment and human resources. Translating your existing skills to support the manufacture of wind turbines or medical equipment instead of hoping car companies will start opening plants again can be the difference between losing your home and keeping it.

Identifying the right industries

The key to successfully translating your existing skills is to become extremely well versed in your targeted growth industries. The goal is to look for the similarities between your old industry and the targeted growth industry and to begin seeing how your current skills would translate.

One great way to accomplish this is by finding people currently working in your targeted growth industry and asking them to help you make the translation. So if you are an accountant, interested in working for a hospital, it would be great to find someone who currently works for a hospital in finance and have them help you establish the commonalities. Keep in mind, however, that the way to make this dialogue productive is to have studied up on that industry first, so the conversation's focus can be on how your current skills translate, as opposed to what they do.

The good news is that the growth industry data you need can be readily found in books and online. Yes, it will take you time to learn about the green energy or pharmaceutical industries, but in order to speak intelligently and effectively translate how your accounting or administrative skills can add value to an employer in a new industry, you must understand what they do, how they make money and where you can add value. There are no shortcuts.

It's a whole new day out there, and in today's job market the old rules of job hunting and career management no longer apply. That means making big adjustments in order to get back to work.

You can't afford not to expend the effort required to translate your skills to a new growth industry. Besides, it's nowhere near as daunting as you might think. Certainly, not as daunting as the prospect of losing your home, watching your retirement funds evaporate and not being able to feed your family.

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Joe Watson is the author of "Where The Jobs Are Now" (McGraw-Hill). Please visit us at

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