Transferable Skills: Your Career Path is Not Linear

A few months ago, my wife went back to work. With our youngest starting kindergarten, we decided it’d be great to have some extra income. Armed with a degree in graphic design and plenty of experience under her belt, she went about looking for some part-time employment. Whatever the reason, however, whether it be a shortage of need, not having been in the game in a while, only wanting part-time, etc., she was struggling to find opportunities.

Then she found a posting for a Lab Coordinator at an Orthodontist’s office. It mentioned graphic design in the job description. She applied and got the job. When she asked why graphic design experience was listed in the description, they mentioned some design and marketing, but primarily it was because there was a good deal of computer software savvy and visual acuity and hand-eye coordination needed for the role.

Her office is unique in that they have their own version of Invisalign trays (think mouthguards that rotate your teeth; they’re like braces, but you can take the trays out and they’re clear, so they’re extremely inconspicuous). Most of the work they do in-house. They take the molds/impressions and scan it.  They then create a detailed plan in 3D software, and build it out with plastic via a 3D printer. Then, the mold is hand-sculpted to eliminate the “excess.” From this mold, clear plastic trays are created. For each stage (and there can be several) a new 3D model is needed to create a new tray based on different positioning of the teeth.

The job is a very technical one and can be quite tedious. The role requires a comfort with design software, precision in accurately cutting the molds, and a whole lot of organization to make the process run smoothly with so many moving parts and when deadlines are always an issue. Finally, it requires a great deal of patience, as the machines do not always work as they should and molds sometimes break.

I know I’m biased, but she’s doing an amazing job (though, I also thought she was an amazing designer too). She picked the role up very quickly, actually, even though everything she was learning was entirely new to her.

Only 27% of college grads have a job related to their major

I share this story for two reasons (three if you include me simply wanting to brag on my wife!). First, a while back, my wife was wrestling with the new role; not because the position was bad, but because she was struggling to accept that this was what she’s doing for a living when “this is not what I went to school for.” She was a designer who wasn’t designing. My guess is many people initially feel this way if at some point they begin doing something that was not what they were originally trained to do. The fact is, according to a 2013 Washington Post article, “only 27% of college grads have a job related to their major.” Yet we spend so much time preparing and training for a certain career field that it can be a bit of a shock to us to consider that we may not do that for our entire career. The reality is, many people get trained for a field they may never enter!

Which leads me to my second point. While you may not stay (or even start) in the field in which you were trained, many of the skills that you learned during that training – the ones beyond the technical – are transferable! Computer skills are transferable. Organizational skills are transferable. Soft skills like critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration and flexibility are transferable. When you begin to understand that most of the skills you learn in any job can be transferred and applied to something else, it is freeing. You are no longer stuck in one lane or one career trajectory when you realize your career path is not linear. Whether you are a middle school Social Studies teacher that becomes an instructional designer for a Fortune 500 company, a graphic designer who moves into a Orthodontics Lab Coordinator role or a student who is transitioning from high school to college or directly to a career, the experience and skills gained are what matter most. Help your students to see and understand this, and when they do, the possibilities are endless.

Questions or comments? Share them in the section at the beginning of this article.

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