How to Improve Your Skills in Today’s Interconnected World

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Improve Your Skills… We live in a world where we no longer have to grow our own food, spin our own cloth, drive away predators, and much more.  There was a time, 100+ years ago where most people had to do the same thing, and  there were a few specialists.  Today, we are all specialists, aside from some who live in desperately poor countries.

How to Improve Your Skills in Today's Interconnected World

But specialists have a problem.  What if their specialty is being changed because of technology?  Or, what if their specialty is being eliminated by the internet?  It’s not as if you can go back to being a farmer; now you have to compete by updating your skills if your skills are in less demand than previously.

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It is incumbent on specialists that they fend for themselves, and be aware whether their skills are decreasing in value.  Because improving skills is not generic, I can’t tell you what to do, aside from the idea of improving your knowledge of how the company makes profits, or even better, finding a new area, usually adjacent to existing businesses, where the firm can make money.

If your specialty is dying, you might have to look to areas near yours, and show competence, or get retrained.  If you sell something, you can sell something like it.  If you operate or service something, you can do it for something similar.  For those the manage cash flow or the whole of the company, you can find similar j0bs in companies like yours, though you might have to take a step down.

As I see it, taking a step down is getting your foot in the door.  It is far better to be working at a lesser job than to be idle.  The longer you are idle, the less employable you are seen to be.  Once you have a job there are abilities to advance inside and outside the firm.  If you are employed, it is a signal to other employers that you are valuable.

But beyond that, you have to be vigilant.  Is there a way for technology or cheap labor to eliminate your position?

That’s the problem and glory of the division of labor.  The division of labor makes us all better off as a whole, but not necessarily each one.  There are often those that lose, and I would argue, it is their fault because they did not adapt.  No one is entitled to their living.  If family farms can’t earn their keep, it is better that they should sell.

That is why I say clever workers need to understand their core skills intensely, but need to know the adjacent skills to a decent degree.  Beyond that, do you understand:

  • how the business makes money?
  • the strategy of the company within the industry?
  • how suppliers view the industry?
  • how consumers view the industry?
  • how to manage subordinates well?
  • non-economic problems that are holding the company back?  (I.e., a squabbling management team.)
  • the effects that changing economic policy have on the industry and company.

You are your own best guardian, in human terms.  No one else has as concentrated an interest in your career as you do.  Therefore, take the opportunity to improve your skills.  It will likely pay off.

By David Merkel, CFA of Aleph Blog

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David J. Merkel, CFA, FSA — 2010-present, I am working on setting up my own equity asset management shop, tentatively called Aleph Investments. It is possible that I might do a joint venture with someone else if we can do more together than separately. From 2008-2010, I was the Chief Economist and Director of Research of Finacorp Securities. I did a many things for Finacorp, mainly research and analysis on a wide variety of fixed income and equity securities, and trading strategies. Until 2007, I was a senior investment analyst at Hovde Capital, responsible for analysis and valuation of investment opportunities for the FIP funds, particularly of companies in the insurance industry. I also managed the internal profit sharing and charitable endowment monies of the firm. From 2003-2007, I was a leading commentator at the investment website RealMoney.com. Back in 2003, after several years of correspondence, James Cramer invited me to write for the site, and I wrote for RealMoney on equity and bond portfolio management, macroeconomics, derivatives, quantitative strategies, insurance issues, corporate governance, etc. My specialty is looking at the interlinkages in the markets in order to understand individual markets better. I no longer contribute to RealMoney; I scaled it back because my work duties have gotten larger, and I began this blog to develop a distinct voice with a wider distribution. After three-plus year of operation, I believe I have achieved that. Prior to joining Hovde in 2003, I managed corporate bonds for Dwight Asset Management. In 1998, I joined the Mount Washington Investment Group as the Mortgage Bond and Asset Liability manager after working with Provident Mutual, AIG and Pacific Standard Life. My background as a life actuary has given me a different perspective on investing. How do you earn money without taking undue risk? How do you convey ideas about investing while showing a proper level of uncertainty on the likelihood of success? How do the various markets fit together, telling us us a broader story than any single piece? These are the themes that I will deal with in this blog. I hold bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Johns Hopkins University. In my spare time, I take care of our eight children with my wonderful wife Ruth.