Transferable Skills For Entrepreneurship

Nobody is born an expert. Skills and abilities can supposedly reach an expert level after 10,000 hours of practice or study. Other abilities can be mastered in a much shorter time. Like 2 hours?  As a factory worker for 20 years, I have done probably hundreds of different jobs within my organization. All assembly jobs. One Department can have 100 different jobs requiring specific elements to complete tasks. Starting off in the company most people have the status of a floater which is someone who floats around from job to job covering empty positions due to absenteeism, people on vacation, or retiring from the company. When I started off it was rare to be on the same job for more than a week. You learned a job within a day and moved on to the next place that you were needed the next day. Within a short amount of time you were able to have a level of Mastery enough to be trusted to run the job alone.

 Of course, there's a difference between barely running the job well enough to keep the pace with the assembly line and doing the job quick enough where you can take short rests in between. This is not to mean that corners are cut or the job is not being performed correctly. It just means that your speed has increased to a certain level and your familiarity with putting certain parts together is strong enough that you build muscle memory as well as mental memory and you are able to perform the job much more quickly than when you first learned it.

Some of the characteristics of a fast learner in this type of environment are nimbleness, good eye and hand coordination, self-confidence, patience, a sense of humor, stamina, and physical endurance.

Since you are working on an assembly line there are moving parts that you need to physically walk alongside and keep up with. Workstations are usually designated in footprints of 10 to 15 feet. That means at 0 feet you start gathering the required parts and tools, you assemble your pieces together, and before your footprint is up you need to have completed your job so that you can go back to your starting position and gather the required parts and tools again to start the next job.

When you're first starting off you are very slow and things are cumbersome. As such, you're walking faster. Sidenote: Most cardio workouts are between 20 and 30 minutes and then you're done. But when you're working in a factory, the longest pictures of time where you are running back and forth is closer to 2 hours. This is why I say you need to have endurance.

Depending on the type of job that you are assigned to, you can master the assembly of parts within 15 minutes and you may not have to run back and forth. Or maybe you learn the job after an hour. With other jobs, you may not be completely comfortable with running them until you have performed it for three to four days consecutively. That is when you reach your level of mastery. Amazingly enough, being a floater builds your level of adaptability and shortens your learning curve.

It's like people that study foreign languages. The first foreign language is tough. The second language may be hard. But additional languages are not as hard to learn for the polyglot as it is for someone who has never spoken a foreign language. There's something that goes on in the brain that allows you to learn to identify certain patterns more quickly, manipulate your body, limbs, hands, and fingers more quickly, and in general learn more quickly.

The saying “jack of all trades, master of none” isn’t completely true for floaters. Their ability to learn so many jobs so quickly is a sort of mastery in itself. Most new employees have to work as a floater, but not all new employees are masters at being those “jacks of all trades”. First, let me say that there are good things and bad things about being a fast learner floater. The bad thing is that as a fast learner, you are placed on the jobs that no one else can do (sometimes you really are better at it than them, sometimes they don’t want to do it so they feign inability).

The good thing about being so "flexible " (one of many "soft skills" needed for success. that the more jobs you learn, the more opportunities you get to work overtime when it's available, you get the option to choose between jobs at times which can yield the benefit of working closer to the bathroom, snack machines, or the exit. All small but rewarding conveniences when working in a demanding job like the factory. Another benefit of learning fast is that you build up a reputation with your coworkers and supervisor and as an “expert” you can even cover for the team leader on occasion.

Depending on the department or team, the team leader can have a lot of responsibilities requiring you to do a lot of tasks throughout the day, or you be “on-call” or as needed for repairs. In the latter case, your knowledge of many jobs through your fast learning has earned you a day of relaxation and rest for the most part.

What is it about some employees that allow them to pick up new training so easily? Why do some people pride themselves on being able to learn new things quickly, while others prefer to take their time, or give up easily? Another disclaimer I’d like to make: In the factory, one factor that causes some to avoid being the “everyman” of their team is pain.

Repetitive motion is a natural part of most assembly work. Some muscles get strong from this, some parts of the body get hurt over time. Overuse of muscles, joints, tendons, and bones cause physical wear and tear. Some jobs cause this very gradually in almost imperceptible ways. Other jobs cause minor and then major pains much sooner.

The jobs that cause the most pain the soonest are the ones that are avoided, by veteran workers and new employees alike. But for the determined floater who places recognition and earnability over comfort, the challenge is accepted, even if it's not welcome. I think that might be a skill in itself- the ability to push through the pain for the purpose of reaching a greater goal. You know the job you are training on is going to cause you issues, but you do it anyway to avoid issues with your superiors, being labeled as inept or lazy, or missing out on possible extra pay.

Is the ability to overcome this difficult work environment to become a ‘roving expert’ something anchored in a person’s personality? Can it be taught? How does this “soft skill” convert to being a successful entrepreneur?

At one point as a much younger factory employee, I recall learning 3 or 4 complete jobs one day. In a month’s time, I would have learned over 20. Question: If I could learn to use different combinations of hand movements along with various standing/bending/walking positions to complete an assembly task to be repeated every 60 seconds (approximately), what's to stop me from learning to complete various small tasks to run a small business?.

Repetition is the key to this skill. Standardization of performing the task is the method (I believe that is called ‘systems’). Persistence is the mental requirement and just a little physical endurance is the physical requirement.  

But is it practical to run a home office, amateur studio, or small business like a large corporate warehouse? Why not? After all, one of the reasons that most people decide to work for themselves is that they want to do things “their own way”. They want to work on their own time, at their own pace. They want to play things by ear and be free from doing things the industry way. But if doing a task a certain way is what makes the bigger companies work, why not follow suit? If it ain't broke, don’t fix it. Do what works.

So how exactly do I transfer the ability to learn a job fast into learning business skills fast? And how will I know when I have reached a level of mastery? On the assembly line it was easy to test-if I didn’t complete the assembly in a set amount of time or within the allotted space of my footprint, some bell would sound, some light would flash, or the assembly line would stop. Everyone on my team would know I was the cause, and so would the boss. Avoiding any one of these embarrassing and stressful events was the motivation to make my hands work more nimbly, make my feet walk faster, regulate my breathing more steadily, focus more intensely on doing my job correctly. I need to work on my job skills transferability.

After working in a factory for 2 decades, I have resigned myself to not really having any marketable skills. I don’t have the corporate skills that one picks up in an office environment. I don’t have vocational skills one would learn in an apprenticeship. I don’t have interpersonal skills one learns from working in sales. I’m a creative person in my own right, but I don’t have the artistry or craftsmanship one would learn from years of creating handmade goods. I can run the basic functions of a computer and do “internet stuff” but I’m not a technical expert in any way that a person who has trained with software or with computer languages might be.

But I do know how to read basic job element instructions. I do know how to translate what I read into actionable results with assembling parts. I do have a strong sense of spatial relations. I have a good eye and hand coordination and can actually multitask-the real meaning being doing more than one thing at once. This is essential for doing some of the jobs on an assembly line. I’m not the best teacher, but I even have experience showing others how to perform a job. If those aren’t skills, I don’t know what is. 

Now I just need to polish up those skills in a way that shows I’m an expert. Hey, I just realized I know more than I think I knew! I just may be an expert after all. Now to convert this expertise from the wage-earning industry to the field of entrepreneurship…