“I Used to.” That’s a phrase heard all too often lately.
Technology waits for no one. Many intelligent people with valuable skills are left by the side of the road as innovations in technology race ahead. Even with decades of experience, if you haven’t got the digital tools of the trade, it could be hard to find work in today’s business world. Chin up, there’s hope. It will never be like it was. It will be better.
Middle aged workers, those between the ages of 40 and 60, earned their status in business before computers were a significant factor. They typed on mechanical typewriters. They took shorthand with pen and paper. They wrote with markers on plastic sheets displayed on overhead projectors. They designed machinery that required human operators. People actually put their hands on things other than keyboards.
Today, computers carry the load. Humans now simply tell computers what to do. Some computers even seem to know what we want them to do before we tell them. Most people in this age range have had at least a little interaction with computers, whether it’s using a cell phone, programming a television remote, or checking in for a flight at an airport. Those activities just scratch the surface, however, of what most businesses require of their employees today regarding computer literacy. If you think your career went obsolete with the adoption of the digital age, however, think again.
For many, it is probably good news that typing is still typing. Granted, there are some fancy things one can do with flying fingers, but for the most part, if your job as a typist disappeared, you can still use those skills in data input and word processing. Through your computer, with an at-home, online course or two in medical terminology, you can be ready to take on work as a medical transcriptionist. If you prefer law to biology, similar coursework can prepare you to be a paralegal. In these jobs, the faster you type, the more valuable you are.
Manufacturing work was plentiful when this group entered the job market. Things were done mechanically, however, instead of digitally. Machines were run by men. Now, they’re run by computers. If you ran a drill press, assembled things, worked in a sawmill, mine, or oil field, you worked with your hands. Today, much of that once physical work is automated, directed by computers and performed by robots. Still, you have knowledge. You know what went before. You understand how the industry evolved. How can that help you land a contemporary position in a similar industry?
If you worked with oil, mining, or manufacturing equipment, you likely have some valuable knowledge about how machines work and what tasks need to be completed, in what order, within specific tolerances. A course in robotics, laser technology, or electronics can be very useful in redirecting what you know as valuable background for a new position. Again, many of these courses can be completed online at nominal cost. Some, including open courseware from impressive schools like MIT, are free. Some are eligible for tax deductions, which is true of course expenses in other disciplines as well.
Many secretaries in the pre-computer era were also walking dictionaries, with a stellar knowledge of grammar, punctuation, and proper formats for upper level communication. Those things still rank high, despite spell check and word processing programs built into computers. Even they make syntax and spelling errors when they don’t understand the context like humans do. Today’s positions as administrative assistants prize those skills, and pay well. Again, a course in computer office programs will put you back on track.
Something important that the online employment sector offers is anonymity. If you feel your age is a factor in getting and securing work, arranging the details of a job online all but eliminates that judgemental snub. Similarly, any disability that you feel might be a disadvantage for a specific task becomes irrelevant. Computers, high tech prosthetics, and automation can now help those with a significant number of disabilities to perform as well as a worker without any physical challenges. Blind workers now have programs to help them “see” their work through other senses, and amputees and immobile workers can perform their tasks with special computer tools that may actually give them advantages. The playing field is a little more level as technology teaches us to be the best we can be. Add a little new tech to your life and see how it can rejuvenate your work history.
If you don’t have a computer, you might consider getting one. It will open a multitude of doors for working from home, as well as help you update many useful skills that are valued in today’s employment marketplace. Some of the entry level computer models, or even one of the newer notebooks, are priced attractively. No matter what brand or model you end up choosing, it will likely pay for itself in short order.
You will also need some software for that computer. No need to jump into the deep end, however. Just start with one program. Pick a word processing program, as that will prove very useful, no matter what industry you’re in. You’ll also need an internet connection to communicate with the world outside your home. If all that is just too much, consider starting out by using computers for free at your local public library.
Your knowledge is valuable. Teachers, nurses, office workers, manufacturing workers, mechanics, bank tellers, and farmers all have skills and industry backgrounds as well as online options for learning as well as working. Updating that knowledge with a digital toolkit can make all the difference, refreshing your career and putting you in demand.