Hello, 2011. It’s great to meet you. I’m sure you’re a great New Year, full of promise and hope. But I’ve got a problem. I’ve still got 2010 on the brain.

See, 2010 was a pretty lousy year. I’m not saying it had a bad personality or anything. It’s just that times were tough. I saw friends lose jobs. I saw people’s careers falter. I witnessed record unemployment in my home state – and that means lots of people struggling to make ends meet.

But I’m not totally depressed. I got some good news from Alexandra Smith, global trends analyst at Mintel. She seems to think that 2011 won’t be so bad after all. And she’s not alone. Oh, no. There are other women out there that are telling me things are actually going to look up in the next 12 months. You can find a worthwhile career – believe it or not.

Okay, first some words from Ms. Smith. She says the tough economic crisis of the past let’s say four to five years has changed people. Workers have changed. Employers have changed. There is a new “value set,” she said.

Here are her key points:

  • Economic uncertainty has changed the workplace and the meaning of job security for the foreseeable future.
  • In 2011, we may see more lifelong learning in the workplace, corporate-sponsored degrees and companies investing in employees through education and training rather than salary or benefits.

Here’s my take on these ideas. First, there is no more job security, at least the way our parents defined it. We need to think about ourselves more rather than being loyal to a sole employer. Yada, yada. You knew that already.

Onto Idea No. 2. I love this one. This is where you get your meat. Companies are going to invest in you to get more bang for their buck. That means you can take advantage of your employer’s generosity like never before when it comes to education. Take every penny offer to improve yourself.

Tie the first and the second together. And you get the best piece of advice I think is out there right now…Invest in yourself. Improve yourself. Educate yourself – and if someone else is willing to pay for it, take them up on it. Because you’re probably not going to get a raise from this employer…but the next one will be upping the old salary based on  your wonderful educational prowess.

So should you trust her words? Well, Chicago-based Mintel is a “Leading global supplier of consumer, product and media intelligence” with about 40 years of experience. I have worked with them for years now, and they’re pretty much always on the money. And that’s what we’re all worried about nowadays – money. Thus, I’m siding with Ms. Smith.

I’m going to throw in one more comment for your consideration. It’s from Wendy N. Powell, (remember her?). She is author of “Management Experience Acquired,” a recently published book aimed at helping people get a leg up in today’s work-a-day world. She spoke with me about my region – Detroit – and her advice is sound for anyone, anywhere. Here’s my favorite takeaway:

“Employees who rise to the top of the employee heap are constant learners. Don’t ever let yourself get stale, ever. Research trade magazines, websites, and conferences. Seek out the current trends and lingo that will prove to your employer that you are ready to not only perform in your current job, but are making yourself ready for the next challenge, and next job. Creativity is the most sought after characteristic. Make sure you become that employee.”

Uh, yeah. I’m pretty sure that education is a good idea to get ahead in today’s economy. What’s your take?

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