Evergreen Skills: What You Should Learn Now (2)

In the preceding article I observed that the best investment one can make is in oneself, and that the longer the skill you learn remains relevant, the higher the overall payoff. Therefore it is highly valuable to identify (and learn!) those skills that can remain relevant and useful for decades.

Since the types of skill that will remain “relevant” are dependent on your career path, a simple way to get some direction on that early in said career is required, and for that I proposed two questions which result in the table below:

Given how non-specific these four “paths” are, there is no reason why anyone can’t pick one. “Keeping options open” is not a bad thing, but you must realise that your current circumstances are already pushing you in a specific direction whether you are conscious of this or not. Your environment is pushing you along and imposing choices on you every day in all manner of subtle and overt ways. One can safely say that given the degree of workforce dynamism today, there is less to be gained from “keeping options open” than from committing and trying different paths out. “Fail fast”; there are many recovery options.

The two questions we asked appear simplistic, but personal experience indicates that they have strong predictive power. When I look at the cohort of individuals who were recruited at the same time as me by my first “formal” employer (an oil major) twenty-plus years ago and compare their inclinations then with what they are doing today I see very high alignment.

Those who particularly liked the social status that working for a big and respected company conferred and who were keen to get ahead in the company would be the “Management” types by our definition. Today almost all of them are managers with the same oil major or with other well-known companies.

There were those who were more focused on using the resources available to them through the company to learn a wide range of things and to test things out. While they were quite happy to work for a respected company their employer’s brand was not a source of self-esteem. Most of such people became entrepreneurs.

There were those who identified strongly with their profession — they were proud to be engineers, or lawyers, or whatever, and who were also “company men”. Those of this type are now typically functional technical experts — engineering managers, company secretaries, etc.

We can expect to end up with two families of skills. Firstly there would be skills that would be evergreen across all four of these career paths. Secondly each path would contain certain path-specific long-term skills.

The safest bets would be the former — skills that would be evergreen irrespective of which path you take…which means you should learn them even if you’re being a broken reed and haven’t identified any career path.

The safest bets are very high payoff compared with the vast majority of skills — they must be learned. However they would not be the skills with the absolute highest expected ROI. We would expect the evergreen path-specific skills to have the highest payoff e.g. value investing for finance specialists.

In the next article we will identify specific skills of both types.