Culture of Experts
Mentoring Students – The Expert Way
It is important to encouraging students to chose an educational path that can lead them to a place that is rich with opportunity. They should also understand that they have the ability, if not responsibility, to become experts at whatever it is they do. In module #1, we separated positions into four groups and listed some of the professions, trades and jobs that fit into these groups. Within this module, we recap those same four groups and add a box below each to present an educational perspective. For prioritization reasons, we will start with group #2.
2 – Recap
Traditional Establishment Expert-level positions – these are historically established roles, best represented by professional-level positions and skilled trades. For these roles, there is a high-level of formal governance through government agencies, colleges, universities, trade schools, trade unions, apprenticeship programs, accreditation bodies and certification or licensing organizations.
• Professional positions that most obviously fit into this group are CPA, engineer, doctor and lawyer positions.
• Less specific expert-level positions might be included within blanket titles: Accounting professional, technical professional, medical professional, marketing professional, HR professional, place-college-degree-here professional.
• All skilled trades positions fit into this group: Electrician, plumber, pipefitter, ironworker, machinist, maintenance mechanic, carpenter, etc…
• Many government and industry regulated sales positions fit into this group: Insurance agent, real estate agent and financial advisor positions are just a few examples.
Because these positions are establishment-oriented, they are more measurable and predictable from a management perspective. The skills are very transferable and the work produced can usually be measured against industry standards. These positions are not the focus of this program, however, much of the information can be applied.
2 – Educational Perspective
Traditional Establishment Expert-level positions
Human beings use division of labor and specialization to advance. The butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker all play their part. Each have learned their expertise from a lineage of knowledge, passed down from generation to generation, with improvements along the way. Today, Traditional Establishment Expert professions and skilled trades are extremely complex, as are the college and trade school establishments that provide foundational knowledge. These career paths should never be taken for granted and should be the starting point for career consideration.
Students should explore the Traditional Establishment Expert professions and skilled trades that hold their interest. Within each, they should thoroughly understand:
• The college degrees or skilled trades programs offered.
• The specific career choices and career levels that can result.
• The availability of advanced learning degrees or programs that are recommended or required for higher career levels.
• The day-to-day tasks and on-the-job requirements within various career choices and career levels.
• The compensation ranges; early career, mid-career, late career and within various career levels.
Every chance possible, students should ask questions to people within the professions and skilled trades that hold their interest:
• What are the most rewarding aspects?
• What is are the down-sides?
• What does a day-in-the-life look like?
• What situations demand the highest level of expertise and what specific work do you perform to meet the challenges?
When considering a profession or trade, personality fit and lifestyle compatibility are important. Students should know their preferences and focus on the career choices that align. The answers to these questions can be helpful:
• What does the corporate culture look like?
• What does the human interaction look like; between management, co-workers and customers?
• How stressful is the career and what can be done to minimize the stress?
• Typically, how many hours per week are needed to meet the demands?
• Is the compensation salary or hourly, and what are the opportunities for overtime pay?
• What physical requirements are involved? What physical strains can develop?
• How much computer work is involved?
• How much administrative work is involved?
• How much travel?
• What geographic areas best support the career and is relocation recommended or required?
Pre-humans invented a simple stone cutting tool with a few sharp edges.
They passed along the knowledge of its design, generation to generation, with improvements along the way.
Over the span of 2 million years, they developed it into a complex stone cutting tool, with a variety of edges.
The human ability to pass along knowledge can save a lot of time.
3 – Recap
Leadership expert positions – these are roles that are held by supervisors, managers, directors, VPs, Presidents and CxOs.
Company leadership, hiring managers, HR professionals and corporate trainers are encouraged to use the information within this program to help hire and develop experts, aspiring experts and potential experts. Although, this program is intended for this group, it does not focus on this group.
3 – Educational Perspective
Leadership expert positions
Leadership can be a profession on its own, however, the most robust leadership careers are those that are based on the expert-level experience that paved the way for leadership. Having expert skills and earning leadership responsibilities is a common way of moving up the career ladder. Like sales, leadership qualities are often personality-driven, using inherent attributes and traits to guide decisions and build relationships.
When a company defines a non-leadership position, leadership skills can still be a desirable or required attribute. Where a pure management position will typically include direct reports; hiring, firing, and performance reviews, a non-management position might have lead-by-influence responsibilities. In a lead-by-influence capacity, the expert is a mentor and their level of knowledge makes them influential within the team.
Within universities, MBAs are often promoted as a leadership add-on degree, adding business related training to a more traditional Bachelor’s degree. Within the skilled trades, there are leadership programs to advance these skills.
4 – Recap
• Positions that do not fit into groups #1, #2 or #3
• Positions that fit into groups #1, #2 or #3, however, company leadership assigns them to this group as part of a greater strategy
Group #4 is the focal point for this program. For these positions, it will be easier to look at the most desirable attributes an employee might have, rather than the definition of the roles themselves.
4 – Educational Perspective
As much as this program promotes on-the-job development of Unconventional Experts, there is still a strong recommendation to pursue an education that ties to a Traditional Establishment Expert profession or skilled trade. Starting an expert-trek with a foundational education has immeasurable advantages. Certainly, high school drop-outs can eventually become Unconventional Experts, but the opportunity to learn within an established school of thought will provide knowledge and perspective that may otherwise take decades to discover. If necessity is the mother of invention, a fundamental understanding is the father.
Some say that a diploma is no more than a piece of paper. Some say that they are not worth the time or money. Within a Culture of Experts, a diploma is priceless if it can lead to:
A position that transcends:
• Structured work
• Repetitive work
• Task-oriented work
• Company-process-driven work
• Unskilled work
A position that necessitates:
• Unstructured work
• Complex work
• Creativity-driven work
• Strategy-dependent work
• Project-oriented work
Some people finish higher education and land squarely into a related career. For everyone else, the best advice is is to focus less on immediate compensation and more on long-term opportunity. For those who can commit to an expert-trek, opportunity means:
• The ability to learn within the position and eventually function at a high-level of complexity.
• The opportunity to reach expert-level and potentially achieve some level of mastery.
• The availability of mentorship, through lengthy and detailed guidance.
• Transferable skills.
1 – Recap
Unskilled-to-midskilled (non-expert) positions:
Within these roles, the average person, without advanced training, can learn and become fully functional within a relatively short period of time. For the most part, these positions are repetitive. Where change is present, it will be manageable change, within the context of the roles. There is not a lot of formal governance from government agencies or educational institutions to manage the requirements for these roles, however, there are strong safety requirements from both government and labor organizations. Positions that typically fit into this group are food preparation, cashier, clerk, administrative, delivery, janitorial and assembly line positions.
It is important to note that the people who work within these roles are among the most conscientious and hardest workers. Their contributions are extremely important to the organizations that employ them and the economy as a whole.
1 – Educational Perspective
Unskilled-to-midskilled (non-expert) positions
In the decades following World War II, unskilled-to-midskilled work could be extremely lucrative. Through labor unions and trade unions, there were opportunities for high compensation, excellent benefits and even pension plans. Today, most of these manufacturing related positions have moved overseas. The ones that remain are typically compensated at much lower levels. Unskilled-to-midskilled service related positions are still very common. Because workers are usually local to the service provided, they cannot be easily outsourced. Although stable, compensation levels are significantly lower than skilled positions.
Through the years, robotics and automation have replaced many unskilled positions. As unskilled positions are removed, skilled technical roles are added, to create and maintain these technologies. Unfortunately, the number of jobs added is never as high as the number eliminated. A more impactful change will happen ten to twenty years from now, with the refinement of artificial intelligence and machine learning. Self-driving vehicles and A.I. robots will be replacing many of the service-related positions and mid-skilled positions that are currently secure. As these technologies progress, some professional-level positions and skilled trades will also see some competition of the unhuman kind.
Providing career advice, it is important to maintain respect for unskilled-to-midskilled workers, as they are the backbone of the economy. The reality that can’t be ignored is the constant tug-of-war between the cost-of-living and the compensation levels that unskilled-to-midskilled careers offer. Inflation increases faster than wages and long-term career plans need to take this into account. Health insurance has a large impact in the cost of living and it too needs to be factored into career choices. A more positive reality; there will always be a high demand for experts, as long as their area of expertise can contribute to the economy.
While pursuing an education, most students work temporarily, within unskilled-to-midskilled positions, to support their efforts. This is an excellent starting place within the job market. While working within these roles, students should be both appreciative of their place in our economy and optimistic about eventually leveraging their education. If all goes well, they will transcend work that is typically structured, repetitive, task-oriented and company-process-driven, and enter work environments that are typically unstructured, complex, creativity-driven, strategy-dependent and project-oriented.
Without a higher education, moving beyond group #1 is a difficult jump. The understanding and commitment to become an Unconventional Expert is at least a starting point. The challenge is in finding a position that will accept a candidate that may not have an ideal education, but can prove themselves and grow within a position that is unstructured, complex, creativity-driven, strategy-dependent and project-oriented.
What about Artificial Intelligence? Won’t it eventually affect the job market? Yes, Artificial Intelligence will not only replace many unskilled and midskilled workers, it will influence many expert-level positions, in one way or another. When making career decisions, try to make reasonable predictions, as to how AI will be influencial.
When recruiters search for a perfect candidate, they work off of a REQ, or job requirement. For more complex positions, it is not uncommon for employers to request multiple layers of expertise.
Here are some examples:
Basic position: Sales.
Special skills: Engineering (Sales Engineer) with Mechanical Engineering degree.
Focus of expertise: Mechanical Engineering, preferring experience that specializes in large-scale industrial machinery.
Leadership requirement: Management experience, to lead a small team.
Basic position: Electrical design Engineer.
Special skills: Circuit board design.
Focus of expertise: Design of test-equipment, preferring experience within the aviation and aerospace industry.
Customer-facing requirement: Excellent communication skills or experience communicating with end-customers.
From an educational perspective, it should be understood that some of these skills start within a formal education and some can only be obtained with on-the-job experience. Generally speaking, the more layers one adds onto their career, the deeper their expertise and the more money they can potentially earn. If a career focus it extremely narrow and the demand is high, relocation to a company that needs the specialized talent may be necessary.
Many people dream of running their own business and being their own boss. The amount of knowledge and expertise required is often misunderstood. This is probably because there are so many entrepreneurs who became successful, despite the absence of a college degree. Certainly, formal education is not required, however, successful entrepreneurs definitely go through an education process and are most often experts at something.
Running the necessary legal operations of a small business is fairly simple. If one can afford the services of a lawyer, an accountant and an insurance agent, the rest is easy. As far as the goods or services offered; there needs to be a novel approach that provides customers with something that they cannot get elsewhere. In today’s market, businesses that merely buy product and re-sell product have to compete with Amazon. Businesses that sell a service need to compete with multi-million dollar giants who offer the amp services. The more unique a company’s strategy, the better chance it will have of winning marketshare. The expertise needed to come up with such strategies are … unconventional.
Leaning to learn
Sometimes, doing well in school comes down to strategy. Predicting what questions will be on an exam is an example. Everyone has some degree of photographic memory; hand writing potential test information on a condensed area of paper can be an excellent memorization aid. Having intellectual curiosity for the topic at hand is the best motivator for studies. As students advance, they get more and more choices within class selections and areas of study. As early as possible, they need to find what captures their interest. In a best-case scenario, the expert-trek starts while one is still in school.
Culture of Experts is a free talent acquisition and employee development program created by Martin Haslinger.
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