What to do if your industry is in decline

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The information age has its pros and cons, and one of the key drawbacks is that many industries that were stable and steady for decades now find themselves in rapid decline.

This can be an unsettling reality if you find yourself in one of these industries. My hope is that this article helps to inspire you to take action towards a brighter and more certain future.

The best time to act was 20 years ago. The second best time is today

It can be hard to accept that your industry is in decline, especially if you remember the days when business was booming.

If you’ve ever had a friend or family member pass away from an illness, you’ll know that you remain hopeful until that day comes when you realize that you’re at the point of no return. This feeling is agonizing because we’re taught to never lose hope. However when this day arrives, you realize that you have find a way to accept this new normal.

It can be easy to fall into the trap of denying that your industry is in decline or hoping that there will be a turnaround and brighter days are ahead. However, it would be wise to consider taking action so that you aren’t limiting your options for the future. Each person will live this differently, and you have to find your own way to accept this new normal. Particularly if this is your dream job, it can certainly feel like someone you love is passing away.

The same holds true if your job depends on your body

If your job relies on your physical strength, stamina or youth, your “industry” is also in decline because your body will only be suitable for a finite number of years. The industry itself may still be around, but your value in it will be limited. Just as you were once a young up-and-comer, there other young people with big dreams who are coming up behind you. There’s no shortage of examples of amateur and professional athletes who suffer depression and a loss of identity and purpose upon retiring.

The other thing that no one wants to think about for fear of jinxing the situation is that your body could suffer an injury. You may recover and bounce back, but you may not. Sometimes it’s not a question that you can’t return, but that you find yourself working through pain. And although you still perform your work dutifully, a part of you wishes that you could work without this pain.

An exit strategy

It’s never too early to plan an exit strategy. In fact, the longer lead time you give yourself, the better you’re able to position yourself to land on your feet. The first thing you need to do is focus on accepting this reality and letting go. There is no shame in seeking help such as counselling if that’s what it takes to get your head in a place where you can be optimistic about the future again. If you’re excited about the prospect of doing something new, you greatly increase your chances for success.

I would recommend talking to others in your industry, both your peers and anyone more mature whom you would consider a mentor. These people are great because they know your reality and will share ideas or paths that you may not have considered before. They may also be able to point you in the direction of valuable resources or introduce you to people who have successfully shifted out of the industry and could give you actionable advice.

Pivot

One thing that I do want to caution against is the siren song of going back to school for a degree. I’m not saying don’t do it. I am just saying make sure it makes sense for you. Be prepared to hear this advice because people who don’t know better and are honestly trying to help will recommend it to you. Here’s why I caution against it:

  1. If you don’t know what to do, a degree won’t help you decide
  2. It’s expensive and it takes years
  3. It might not teach you the skills you need to be successful on the job market because colleges and universities struggle with producing too many graduates in fields with limited employability

What I do recommend is pivoting.

Pivoting is exactly what it sounds like: it means to take your current skill set and shift it in another direction or find a new use for the same skills in a new industry.

Let me give you a concrete example. In recruiting, there is a practice we call sourcing. What this means is searching with different sources to find prospective candidates then contacting them. Headhunting involves sourcing, for instance. Did you know that the sourcing gurus in our industry actually studied in library sciences? I know, it sounds nuts. But being a librarian involves searching in different areas and developing long queries to find something specific. So while these two jobs seem completely unrelated at first blush, they are actually quite similar.

There are countless examples such as this one, where it’s a question of repackaging and reorienting your skills. You may need to take a class or two to tune up or learn a couple new skills, but it will be much more effective – both in cost and in time – than going back for a degree. You could also repurpose part of the funds you had intended for a degree and put them towards a career counselling service that could support you through this type of transition.

What about entrepreneurship?

I remember I was once on a plane and we were boarding, not yet ready to take off. The flight attendant was chatting with someone in the row behind me, and based on the part of the conversation I heard, it sounded like they were former colleagues.

The flight attendant was explaining how the working conditions were becoming unsustainable. They had more on-call shifts, so there was less certainty in their hours. The company had also taken certain benefits away. The lady in the row behind me was astonished about how the conditions had deteriorated since she left.

I wish I could go back in time and talk to this flight attendant because I have a business idea for her. I would suggest perhaps starting her own business coaching people who are afraid of flying. With all the knowledge she has from her years in the industry as well as her people skills, she could discuss with clients to understand their fears about flying and give them techniques to overcome those fears. She could explain what turbulence is and inform clients about all the safety measures and improvements she had witnessed over the years. There’s no shortage of people who are afraid of flying and who would certainly pay to get coaching, especially if they have a big event coming up like a wedding or a conference and they need to get on a plane. By running her own business, she could work from the comfort of her own home and tailor her hours to suit her lifestyle.

Entrepreneurship doesn’t have to be this big venture where you pitch on Shark Tank. It isn’t necessary to invent the next Facebook or have an MBA to run a profitable business. Yes, you have to know what you’re doing, so I would recommend seeking out a business consultant if you’re considering this route.  Coaching and consulting are accessible career paths for those who are experienced in their industry. The barrier for entry is low because there is virtually no overhead. Your clients don’t even need to live in your area. With FaceTime and Skype being so widely available, you have the whole world at your fingertips. With a little imagination and guidance from a business consulting professional, you can breathe new life into your career.

Final thoughts

I know that for some of you who are reading this, the prospect of change is scary, and I do hear you. This is why it will be good to let these words sink in and consider them for a while, then perhaps come back and read this again in a few weeks. You deserve more than to let the changes happening around you control your life. My hope is that you will feel more in control of your future when you take hold of the situation and drive the changes yourself.