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Worrying about recession? Keep skills up to date

DEAR J.T. & Dale: I’ve read that the unemployment rate is at a 16-year low. Things can’t stay good for much longer. What can I do to prepare for the next recession? – Cary

Dale: Let’s review the dreary logic of “can’t stay good for much longer.” The conventional wisdom you learned in economics class is that as the economy approaches full employment, wages begin to rise quickly, which means there’s “too much money chasing too few goods,” which turns into a spiral of inflation. At that point, the Federal Reserve responds by aggressively raising interest rates, slowing the economy. There are two flaws in that chain of logic, however: First, as we’ve passed through the classic levels of full employment, wages have barely risen. Joke’s on us, eh? Second, there’s no shortage of goods: The manufacturing sector has plenty of excess capacity. So, the classic economic cycle no longer applies. That doesn’t mean there won’t be a recession; there will eventually be some new shock to the economy, but no one knows when. Meanwhile, the nature of employment continues to evolve, and that is a parallel challenge. Either way, you must become the New Employee. That means ABL (Always Be Looking), and more. The New Employee knows that your fortunes are tied not just to your job or your type of employment, but to the fortunes of your employer and your industry. When you look out and consider all of those futures, you’re not just working, you’re surfing the economy.

J.T.: You do that by making sure your skills are the kind that will stay in demand as the economy shifts. You also need to make sure your salary isn’t too high. Think of the law of supply and demand. In times of low demand, the most expensive workers lose their jobs. Lastly, make sure you are saving some cash that you can access in the event of a job loss. A job search today takes six to nine months. Having enough savings to live off will help ease the stress.

Dale: And let’s not think of “job skills,” but “career skills,” which include a new dimension that we’ll call “trans-networking.” To move easily requires keeping up with people in related positions and other industries. Do it right, and your career gets carried along on the rolling segments of the economy, surfing all the way to shore.

Dear J.T. & Dale: My boss hired his teenage kid to work at our office part time after school. She clearly doesn’t want to be here. Does nothing. Never smiles. Drives me nuts. Can I say something? Nobody’s challenging her because her dad runs things. – Amy

J.T.: Have you spent time getting to know the boss’s daughter? Before you preach to her, maybe you should befriend her. Get her to talk about herself, connect with her on a more personal level. Make her feel more comfortable, and perhaps she’ll begin to have more excitement for the job and a better attitude. It’s possible she is embarrassed that she got the job through her dad and resents the pressure. Or, maybe she assumes you all don’t like the nepotism and won’t be nice to her. Whatever the case, getting to know her and becoming friendly is the better pathway to showing her the value of a good attitude at work: She’ll learn firsthand that it comes from caring and connecting with those you work with!

Dale: Yes, talk with the daughter and befriend her if you can. But there’s another side to “Can I say something?” which is saying something to the boss. What you cannot tell the boss is what you told us: that his kid is sulky and useless. Rather, you can express concern and offer your help. Something like: “I’m glad your daughter is here, but I feel bad for her because she seems to feel left out. Would it be all right if I worked with her and tried to mentor her?” The boss will be grateful and the daughter … well, she’s a teenager, so who knows? But you might just make a difference in her life.

Jeanine “J.T.” Tanner O’Donnell is a professional development specialist and the founder of the consulting firm jtodonnell. Dale Dauten resolves employment and other business disputes as a mediator with Please visit them at, where you can send questions via email, or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., 15th Floor, New York, NY 10019.