Pick a specialization which best meets your goals
Job specialization and ongoing skill enhancement are essential to career success. These mitigate commoditization of skills and are key to delivering high productivity – resulting in job resilience, work satisfaction, and improved financial benefits.
Specialization can be in different functions and in trades which are industry unique or cross industry borders. The nature of specialization has implications on job continuity and the opportunity to work across companies / industries / locations.
Let' take five specializations and outline their likely impact on company/industry portability and long term job stability.
1. Technology or trade specialization – These are specializations built during college education e.g. computer programming, general medicine, welding, or accounting. These tend to be industry neutral, allowing portability across companies, industries and locations. A Java coder can work for an IT services firm in India, or a product development company in Silicon Valley. Similarly, an accountant can work at a retailer in New York or a manufacturer in Dallas. Since skills are portable across companies/industries in a location, one can have continuity there for extended periods. The portability of employment across companies/industries is a also beneficial to job continuity and it takes a broad economic recession to put these jobs at risk.
For those seeking location stability and job continuity, these are very good specializations. Also for those looking to migrate to new locations / larger centers of economic activity. It's no surprise then that these attract those looking for "safe" professions. Specialists of these skills will live in their homes them long enough to benefit from the capital appreciation!
2. Super specializations – These are a level above the specializations of the first illustration. Technology architects, Medical super-specialists, and Forensic accountants are some examples. Since they are more niche, the job opportunities are fewer, and tend to be concentrated in metro regions. Within those metro's there is portability across companies and industries. Since it takes an extended investment of time and money to achieve these higher levels of specialization supply is limited which in turn is beneficial to job continuity.
3. Industry specialization – These are specializations in specific industry processes. Examples are Risk/compliance reporting for banks, billing processes in telecom, store management in retail, or actuaries in Insurance. As industry specializations, they offer portability within companies in the same industry or near adjacent ones. Location portability is limited to cities or regions where the industry has presence. Being industry unique, these skills are often acquired while working in that industry over a period of time. This creates barriers to entry to those from outside the industry, reducing competition, and contributing to job continuity and stability. Those who join an industry when young have the head-start in acquiring these early and specializing in them over time.
The resilience of these specializations is linked to the fortunes of an industry. When times are good for their industry, we hear of roofers, oil drillers, and telecom technicians making the highest wages in their peer group. In industry downturns these trades can have the highest rates of unemployment. For those looking for job continuity, industry specializations in Insurance, Healthcare and Education which are aligned to long term demographic trends may be good choices.
4. Company specialization – Most successful companies have their unique ways of working which define their identity. While they adopt many processes and practices similar to peers in the industry, there are some which are company unique. The supply chain processes at Walmart, product development at Apple, or wealth management at Fidelity are some which distinguish them from their peers. Specializing in them requires tenure with the company, and again, those who join young have an edge. Because of this, the barriers to entry are high for outsiders, existing employees have the advantage in job continuity - linked to the success of the company. Since similar processes are followed across the industry, there is an opportunity of portability across peer companies, though any movements may require significant re-learning.
5. Closed group specialization – These are specializations in the ways of working of a small group of people – in most cases aligned with the personality/ways of working of the boss. One will find this across companies and industries, commonly referred to "hitching your career to a rising star ". More than anything else, this requires alignment and commitment to an individual and tenure of working together. Portability is very limited – you have hitched your career to a small group – and career resilience becomes a function of its success and ability to carry you along.
Specialization in a profession is a path to long term career success and resilience. Specializations which are industry agnostic allow greater mobility and job / location stability. Those which are aligned with specific industries, companies, or groups, allows less.
As a professional, assess your individual goals on job/location/ industry / company stability and portability. Different job specializations achieve these goals in varying degrees. Focus on building the specialization which will best serve your goals.