By Susan V. Ople

Your first job shapes you. You come in, timid and careful, soaking the environment in while wanting to blend with the wall. Days and weeks after, you passed the first hurdle, a simple task, and made contact with your first-to-be friend and confidante. Life proceeds from there, and your first job becomes a process of self-discovery like no other.

Subsequent jobs are yours to shape. No matter how you lost the first one, the jobs that follow it bear your imprint as a more experienced employee. By this time, you’d know how to extend your hand for the standard pleased-to-meet-you handshake, while easing in your calling card during a conversation with a potential client at the appropriate time. Isn’t this the natural progression for career-oriented people? A career ladder goes upwards, not sideways and certainly not downwards from midway to the bottom rung.

During the 70’s when my father was labor secretary, the gold standard in terms of employment was for it to last a lifetime. Japanese firms were known to pioneer in lifetime employment, where one is expected to die where he works, giving loyalty an altogether divine interpretation. Today, job security is commensurate to one’s skills. The more valuable your skills are to the workplace, the more secure you’ll be. The public sector does not have that same cut-throat litmus test which is why those laid off from government jobs due to political reasons often find themselves at a loss on how to reboot his or her career. Of course, in a political (read: elective) office, loyalty and bloodlines trounce skills anytime, which is why quite a few local governments thrive in mediocrity because innovation requires better bloodlines.

My friend, Atty. Gwen Pimentel-Gana and I were discussing Senate employment as a career path and we both agree that while the perks are excellent, employment that is tied to a politician’s fate can also be a disadvantage. For example, a senator is entitled to six years in office prior to a second re-election. For that first six years, the politician provides employment to his staff that is co-terminous with his own term limits. A Senate staff must optimize his time with the politician to build his own personal network, acquire a specialization that legislative work often offers, and obtain a master’s degree on his own time before the six years are up. Unless that staffer does so, he would be left behind by his own pack of peers that never had the cushion of a six years’ straight employment and are therefore less complacent with their careers.

Job principles in a fast-moving world are no longer bound in and by textbooks. You get work where you can and with what you offer. Negotiations are done all the time. My household workers negotiate with me all the time regarding their preferred days off. Project-based employees count milestones and submit reports to keep track of their own career expiration dates.

Government agencies have become astute, seeking partnerships with established civil society groups that have their own funding sources and therefore quality staff that go with big-ticket grants. The private sector has its own job principles, investing in in-house training to ensure maximum protection for its brand. Piracy abounds not only among BPO companies but also within conglomerates because the best talent is gold in terms of productivity and even employees’ morale.

The best job principle is to simply be the best you can be. If you are an encoder in a government office, then be the best, most accurate and efficient encoder that office has ever seen. If you are the head of corporate communications, then go back to school and learn more about multi-media communications. In this world, to rest on one’s laurels is a cliché worthy of your computer’s trash bin. Rest, if you must, but always keep up with the ways of the world.

I believe that the greatest challenge that we face is in how to make our teachers, classrooms, and learning tools as competitive as the rest of the world. Our future lies with that child entering school for the very first time. What kind of lectures would he listen to? How intelligent are his teachers? What teaching tools would be used to ensure optimal knowledge retention?

If a first job shapes a person, moreso does his early childhood education. The cycle begins with his very first teacher, and like a career ladder, the quality must continue to go up from there. Individually, we all must compete and be on top of our game. Collectively, as a country, we need to work as a team and be inspired as a country to offer our best to the world.

Right now, the Philippines is rising and racing to the top as a nation that has found its wings. We can’t go far though unless we realize that every Filipino needs to have that competitive spirit for the rest of us to succeed. We can do it. The world expects nothing less from us. The year 2013 is for us to win, as individual workers and as citizens of the world. (Send comments to toots.ople@yahoo.com.)