“You’re going to your ship. I’m going to mine. Science vessel. I got 300 years of catch-up learning to do.” -Dr. Gillian Taylor, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

The other night I was watching President Obama’s address, the “non-state of the union” State Of The Union. I found myself once again enraptured by the same masterful rhetoric that caught my attention during this past election cycle.

There was something in President Obama’s presentation that caught my ear.  Actually, there were quite a few things that caught my ear. But I kept coming back to one point, much like your tongue keeps returning to the raw edge of a jagged tooth.

It simply wouldn’t go away.

In the latter half of his speech, President Obama said:

“…It is our responsibility as lawmakers and educators to make this system work. But it is the responsibility of every citizen to participate in it. And so tonight, I ask every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training. This can be community college or a four-year school, vocational training or an apprenticeship. But whatever the training may be, every American will need to get more than a high school diploma…”

For the full text of President Obama’s address, click here.

Our Training and Education is Our Responsibility

Over the last few years, I’ve read a number of books encouraging individuals to invest in their own education. At the very end of The Accidental Salesperson, author Chris Lyttle states that taking responsibility for your own education is the best investment you will ever make. And in Self Made in America, author John McCormack goes on extensively about the education system in America. He takes the position that in order to compete effectively on a global scale, we need to invest in ourselves.

John McCormack wrote his book back in 1992, so this is not a new concept. At some level, every small business owner realized that in order for their company to participate in the growing global economy, they needed smart, quick, agile people who could turn on a mental dime. And in order to keep them smart, quick and agile, they would need to make a professional development investment in those people as well as themselves. However, I think this is the first time that I’ve heard the President of the United States strongly encourage people to invest in their own education and training.

The Cost of Talent Development

Now, here’s an interesting observation involving the corporate environment.

I’ve seen lots of discussions about the “War For Talent”. Yet, over the past year, I have also seen a lot of email from trainers and educators looking for work. They said that their entire department had either been reduced in size or cut entirely and they were looking for employment alternatives.

Wait? We’re in a war for acquiring talent and the corporate suits cut the training budget to zero?

Cutting the entire training group during hard economic times may have made sense for companies in the “agricultural age” and maybe some sense in the “industrial age”, but to cut training in the “information age”?  When your people are considered “knowledge workers” and our commerce depends on how effective we can sell and move information? That makes about as much sense as an Olympic wrestler going to his coach and saying, “Coach! I need to loose 5 pounds to make my weight classification. Here, cut off my foot! I’ll worry about getting it back after the match.”

I’ve been through my share of layoffs, downsizes, right-sizes, outsourcing programs and corporate realignments. In all cases, I’ve never seen a company that “cuts off its foot to make weight” become a dominant player.   The good people typically find other gigs.

And the rest?

Well, they simply hang on while the company slowly sails off into the sunset of obscurity.

As Les Brown, The Motivator, once said, “No one ‘cuts’ their way to greatness.”

Is it possible to come back after such extreme measures? I guess. Anything is possible. It’s just that I’ve never seen it happen.

Training and Education Advice for Individuals

So here’s the lesson for the individual contributor; the knowledge worker; the content creator.

A former manager once told me that there is always life after [put your company name here]. Companies come and go, and there will always be corporate layoffs. However, where ever you go, you will always be the constant.  So, if you want to participate in this burgeoning, global economy, heed President Obama’s words. Invest in your training and education development. Take ownership of your personal development program as well as your personal branding campaign. This includes increasing your knowledge of new communication technologies, collaboration platforms, and languages, and as well as enhancing your communication, presentation, leadership, and sales skills. ,

My personal preference is for communication and sales training. Some may think that I’m being biased here, but I’m not.

Imagine applying for a sales position and hearing “I think you are a great closer, but I can get my website to close the sale 24 hours a day 7 days a week. What I need is someone who understands the consultative sale and can partner with our important clients.”

Or imagine yourself thinking that you’ve got all of the qualifications to excel at the job you are applying for only to be beaten by the guy who was not as good as you but able to better articulate and sell their skills and abilities.

Take Control of Your Own Training Program

As we move forward in a questionable economy, we need to be somewhat selfish and think about our own future. Ask yourself these questions:

  1. What knowledge and skills are going to make me more marketable in the future?
  2. How should I present my skills and abilities to my prospective buyer so that I look better than my competition?
  3. What meta skills do I need to present my abilities to prospective clients or employers?
  4. What types of companies are looking for the skills I currently have or I’m developing
  5. How many of these companies will still be around when I am ready to make my move?
  6. How and where can I develop these skills?

A company is only as good as the people that it employs. And with every company talking about the “War for Talent” realize that they are talking about YOU. You, the individual, are the “Talent” that they are fighting over. But in order to get as many vendors as possible courting you, you’ll need to make a substantial investment in developing your own talents, skills, and abilities.

Don’t wait for the corporate suits to provide or cut your training. Create your own education and training program and start moving forward today.