As a young man, my father told me, "Get good grades in school right now. Then, your mother and I will send you to college. We have saved up the money for it." I was a freshman in high school. The year was 1994. There was no Internet and my mother was a career teacher with a ‘safe, secure’ government job and my father was an accountant. They had been the first in their families to go to college and it landed them into the corporate world. They worked long hours, saved money in a 401k, and we took a two-week vacation every year to the Gulf of Mexico.
They obeyed their parents and went to college in the 1960's. At the time it was sound advice. During this period in American history few people had college degrees, therefore little competition existed in trying to get a job. If you had a degree, you were first in line to be hired. America was the center of the world, and even with a poor economy in the 70’s, getting a job was easy. Since they followed this blueprint for success, they passed this advice down to me. I don't blame them. I would have guided my children down the same path. I mean, why not? It worked, right?
Fast forward to today. The Internet outsourced millions of job, the tech crash showed us that nothing goes up forever, 9/11 hurt, two wars were fought 13,000 miles away costing trillions, and the housing crises showed us once again nothing goes up forever. A great deal has happened in the last 15 years. America has changed. College grads are a dime a dozen and the jobs that we once trained for have vanished. Hiring fairs have become a joke. I attended one during the recession. Every booth I approached said the same thing, “We do all of our hiring off the website. Go there and post your resume!” The company representative handed me some generic business card and shuffle me away so that they could tell the next person the same thing. I remember thinking, "Are there actual jobs at this jobs fair?"
The world was changing. I was a laid off teacher who’d followed the advice of my parents, guidance counselors, and every other adult. I’d earned good grades, was a varsity athlete in college, and worked hard. So, where was the army of companies that wanted to hire me? Turns out, they’d died in the great recession. I was 29 years old, with a new baby, and scared.
Fast forward a few years, a new career in oil and gas, and much more wisdom than that 29 year old had. I figured out that our great nation had changed, and I better change with it or else.
Forced into a new worldview, I asked myself a few questions. What products do people all over the world purchase everyday? What industries provide those goods and services? How much do the employees make in those industries? What is the upside potential?
At the time I was managing a bar, counting my tips and managing employees, and struggling. But my mind was thinking in a different manner. I stopped looking for what the world saw as college level jobs and started looking for value around me. It wasn’t long until I noticed a group of men in the bar that had tons of money. I asked them a simple question, “What do you do?” They replied, “We work in oil.”
Oil! Of course! Everyone uses oil. We use it to run our cars, heat our homes, and charge our cell phones. Everything is attached to oil. It’s the ultimate product. No winning over customers or hard sales pitches. This stuff is a necessity!
I started making friends with the oil workers and it didn’t take long for them to ask me if I would be interested in the oil field. The field was growing and they needed good workers. I agreed immediately and now I’m making more money than I ever thought possible. My skill is in drilling fluids and oil rigs. The company that brought me on trained me in the discipline. My area was booming and they were willing to train new guys. I can now go anywhere in the world where there is drilling, and have a job.
I’m not writing this article to tell you about the oil field, I’m writing it to tell you that the days of being educated and getting a good job are over. Today’s corporate America is all about minimizing costs, outsourcing busy work overseas, and lowering project times to save money. The new world in corporate America is about cutting costs at every turn, people included. If you don’t have a defined skill that the employer is looking for, you’re out of luck. Skills are the new keys to the kingdom. I work around people that went to a trade school for 3 months, learned a skill, and make double what I do.
The other bit of wisdom that I found is that good jobs are not posted online. Career websites are a virtual land of mediocrity. Good jobs are simply not posted on these websites. It’s easier to run a marathon than obtain a job through any of these sites.
In the new America, open positions are not listed. This even applies for oil. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen jobs on my company’s website just to learn that a pre-selected person already has the position. They put it online because local laws require you to post all open positions. But they already have a pre-determined candidate who has the position.
Network, network, and network some more
Networking yourself and tapping into someone else’s network is the new key. Trust me, there are jobs in this country. They are good, high paying, and in demand. But hiring managers don’t want to post an ad and sift through hundreds of emails. I can’t tell you how many times my manager has asked if I know of people who would like to come on board. He asks this because I’ve proven to be reliable and he thinks I acquaint myself with the same type of person.
Networking is vital. Do whatever you can to get in front of people and work your way into their lives. Let's use oil as an example.
Let’s say you are interested in pipeline work. You’ve seen pipe being laid on the highways and want to be an inspector. I would suggest that you enroll in a testing and inspections course and make it very apparent to the instructors that you want a job and you want them to help you. Most instructors at a trade school have actually done the job, and they know people. (This is contrary to a University, where most professors have never actually done the job that they teach.)
Another way would be to start anywhere on the pipeline. You could drive a truck, lay pipe, or run paperwork to and from the site to the office. Do anything to get you close to the action. From there, network with everyone you meet. Make sure they know you mean business, are learning the pipeline trade, and want to become an inspector. It’s far easier to get that inspecting job if you’re already in the field than trying to apply online.
Work in industries with little competition
The lesson is this. Getting new skills in an industry in demand is vital. Once inside, network your tail off. Make it no secret that you are ambitious and want to move up. The reason I like oil so much is that there very little outside competition. I have friends that followed the dot-com boom and thought sitting behind a computer with a ping-pong table in the break room was going to be their lives. The problem with dot-com is that there are no barriers to entry. Anybody can start a site and compete with you. But oil has no competition. Sure, wind and solar are coming online, but they don’t deliver the same amount of energy oil does. Wind and solar cannot run a car.
Find an industry that is in demand, has little competition, learn the skills within that industry, and network your way up.