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Riddell: Benefitting from technology—guru or tradesperson?

John Ridell writes a business column and a fun, Zoomer-Boomer outdoor column for the Sky-Hi News.

In my last column, I tried to sound the alarm for the inevitable advance of technology into the service industry and what it might imply for folks wanting to make Grand County their home.

As previously noted and universally recognized in the manufacturing segment, technology implementation always results in employment uncertainty. Whether it is job elimination or job enhancement, a reduction in labor costs provides the rationalization for the capital investment. All this having been said, there are tried and proven ways to, not combat, but proactively and prosperously co-exist with this wave of non-stop technological advances. Here are a couple of ideas for your consideration.

A first step is to look at your current job with two questions in mind, both of which require brutal honesty in their answers.

Question number one is "Can I realistically see my job either being wholly replaced or significantly altered through the implementation of technology?"

Unless yours is a trade-skill or God-given talent, the most probable answer is "Yes." If this is the case, then to stay in your current line of business, you really have only one choice. You need to figure out and position yourself as a sponsor/master of the replacement technology. You then become the "go to" guru, the keeper of the magic. Employers will pay handsomely for this magic. The downside of this approach is that there may be more of a supply of these gurus than demand and market forces always come into play. Additionally, one of the key traits of technological advancement is the obsoleting of previous technology. To survive you would have to be a serial guru.

The second question to consider is "Am I willing to learn or do I already have a trade skill?"

Trade skills are those activities like plumbing, roofing, electrical wiring, construction and the like that require human problem solving skills matched up with practical technical expertise. Now this is in no way an attempt to imply that any and all of these trade skills are obtainable without talent. Quite to the contrary. If you have ever experienced a bad plumber and a bad plumbing job needing to be corrected by a talented plumber, you know what I mean. But many folks, with enough determination, hard work, and talented managers and training could find permanent employment in one or more of these areas. If you choose to live in Grand County, this permanent aspect is an important ingredient. While technology can certainly enhance the quality and productivity of many tradespeople (think of a nail gun for a roofer), it takes a talented and creative individual to make the best use of technological assistance. While everyone will recognize that the nail gun will enable the roofing company to lay more shingles with fewer employees, there is now such a dearth of skilled craftsman and laborers in Grand County that this concern is hardly worth noting. The demand greatly exceeds the supply.

Now there are some few who fall into that category of artist and see no reason to pursue either the guru path or the tradesperson path. Obviously, this is certainly an individual's freedom of choice, but the realities of the marketplace bear mentioning. Again, supply and demand form a serious basis for compensation but when you then throw in personal opinion of the work by the public at large, well, there is a reason the terms "starving artist" and "sale" were coined.

Technological advancements will continue at a pace few of us can even comprehend. You owe it to yourself and your future to think about its impact and how you can profit from it. Sometimes just going through the thought process opens the door to unforeseen opportunities.

Following a successful international business career, John Riddell turned his attention to small business/entrepreneurial pursuits that included corporate turn-arounds, start-ups, teaching, authoring business and sports columns and serving as VP for the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce directing its Center for Entrepreneurial Growth. He can be reach at jfriddell@msn.com.