Time for a new career? Here’s the take-away from Career Innovation Day

On Friday, May 6, Cape Cod Technology Council presented Career Innovation Day at Cape Cod Community Media Center in Dennisport. Under-employed technology geeks, people looking for a career change, and employers looking for tech talent were invited to attend.

The event began with a special Career Day First Friday Breakfast Series panel, moderated by Paula Hersey. Panelists were John “JD” Hawley, CTO at Convention Data Services; Beth Marcus, Business Manager of Cape Cod Beer; and Dr. David Crane, Dean of Continuing Education at Bridgewater State University.

People don’t always end up where they think they were headed. JD described himself as a “serial career changer,” whose shift to technology was almost accidental (he has a masters in creative writing). Beth had worked in IT, so when she opened a business she loved she was able to bring those skills to the table. Dave, who described himself as a career change facilitator,  is a medieval historian by training. What they all have in common is skills accumulation – a recurring topic of the morning.

Convention Data Services often has entry level positions available, in a range of areas – product support, convention staffing, logistics and more. JD said it’s very difficult to find trained tech talent on the Cape, so these entry level jobs are feeder positions. Hiring from within, they take people who have no technical training but show promise and interest, and train them. When they need to fill a position up the ladder, they look for current employees who demonstrate talent, drive, and motivation. JD also mentioned soft skills – being nice, trainable, good to work with. Soft skills, he says, are as important as tech skills.

Beth agreed. “You can train people to do a lot of things,” she said, “but you can’t train them to be nice or care about the customer.” When interviewing for a job (anywhere), Beth advised applicants

  • know something about the company
  • make sure resumes look professional
  • dress appropriately
  • provide good references who will call back

Would continuing education help a candidate pivot into a new career? Sometimes yes. The thing to ask yourself, Dave said, is “Where do I want to be in my career, and how much do I want to invest to get there?” Continuing education includes non-credit professional development training, as well as degrees. While a Bachelor’s Degree is helpful, it’s often not required. Sometimes industry certificates are what’s needed. There are also Code Camps, for people who want to break into programming. In Continuing Education, they take those soft skills we mentioned and add tech skills.

Sometimes employers will fund training. It costs a lot to recruit good people – less to train them. Loyalty matters in the business world, so when employers can move a loyal employee up the ladder, it saves them money.

While technology may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a job in manufacturing, Beth noted that there is a lot of technology in manufacturing. “Technology is more than our phones,” she said. “We need people who are technically savvy, hands on people.” Sometimes she finds that people can text, but not get the forklift to work. While their new brew house is operational from cell phones, they also need people with hands on skills to keep everything running. “We try to be smart about our technology, so we can maintain it in house,” she said.  

Many people like Beth are starting their own business, either at the beginning of their career or midstream. “We are seeing an offshoot of the new “gig economy,” Dave said, “where people don’t have a set career their whole lives. They’re almost independent contractors, as they rotate through jobs.” Wherever you are in your career, when you start your own company you need business skills. “We all need core competency to be in business,” Dave continued. “Continuing education offers training that suits the need of the moment. It’s an on demand economy, so education has to be on demand as well. You can pick and choose the things you need for your business.”

“If you have a passion for something, you also have to have a passion for  business because it won’t run itself,” Beth said. “It’s fifty percent brewing, fifty percent business.”

One of the things the panelists all mentioned was limiting risk when starting a new business, including protecting personal assets (Beth), spinning off an existing company (JD), and getting additional training before taking the leap (Dave).

We often hear that there’s no work on the Cape. We also hear that businesses have trouble finding qualified employees. To bridge the gap, JD suggested a job description consolidator, so job seekers can go to one place and employers can post to one place. Beth added that the Cape’s housing crisis needs to be addressed. It’s especially a problem for mid level employees. It’s very difficult for someone to move their family here.

One place job seekers and employers may start is with Career Opportunities, where they have a job quest data base, as well as information on how to get funding for training new employees.
In this economy, people are likely to have more than one career. Where will your next leap take you?

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