Evolving in the "new economy" age

"Only the paranoid survive." This is the guiding principle by which Andrew Grove has long run his company, Intel Corp. According to him, the entrepreneurs who avoid extinction are the ones who look over their shoulders constantly as they move ahead in this new business climate that is being transformed by the high tech revolution.

Environmental professionals struggling to adjust to the new economy's challenges can benefit from Grove's new spin on Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. The impact of the Internet and e-commerce is hitting the environmental industry along with the rest of U.S. businesses. Although the recent jitters experienced by the Internet stocks listed on the NASDAQ stock exchange have caused some cynics to refer to them as "dot.gones," the long-term outlook for high-tech companies is strong.

To understand what's required to succeed in this changing environment, it's important to consider how the Internet economy is likely to develop. In his article, "Five Habits of Highly Effective Revolutions," which appeared in a recent issue of Forbes, Hal Varian points out that even though the Internet revolution may appear to be totally new, the same patterns of behavior occurred in the development of earlier technologies such as automobiles, airplanes and radio. According to Varion, the dean of the School of Information Management and Systems at the University of California at Berkeley, a technological innovation typically passes through five main stages as it undergoes industrial development: experimentation, capitalization, management, hypercompetition and consolidation.

"As the Internet business starts to mature it will likely consolidate into a market structure with a few big winners (companies like AOL, Yahoo, Cisco), a few big losers (fill in your candidates here), and lots of perpetually small players focusing on niche markets. The Internet's strength lies in selling highly differentiated content and services. The infrastructure providers of basic services may dominate the headlines, but the bulk of the business opportunity lies in customized services and targeted media," Varion said.

In our cover story "2000 Salary Survey," which begins on page 16, Managing Editor Monica Hauser profiles, among other things, our readers' views on how the Internet economy is affecting the environmental profession. According to several survey respondents, the new Internet/high-tech companies are starting to attract computer-savvy environmental professionals and thereby creating staff shortages to fill traditional environmental jobs. The upside of this development is that it's beginning to drive up salaries for some environmental positions.

"The future trend will be declining salaries for environmental professionals relative to MBAs and computer software and production experts," Clifford Randall, an engineer from Blackburg, Va., commented in his survey response. An environmental professional from Arlington, Va., echoed this outlook, saying, "Although environmental expertise will continue to be in demand, the really big bucks are with system hardware/software design. And the exploitation of the Internet combining environmental expertise with advanced IT capability will be the ultimate marketable job skill."

Given the reality of the new economy, how do you avoid having your name placed on the endangered professionals' list? In a word — adaptability. This strategy has worked for countless species on this planet and it can work for you. Employees in the environmental field must contend with employers' increased expectations because of rapid technological changes. Natural selection in this new era favors workers with highly sophisticated computer skills. If you don't have them yet, start getting them. The explosion of computer software being used in all areas of the environmental field will only increase over time.

Be aware of the other trends besides the Internet that are giving rise to the new economic order. One leading driver in this transition is the increasing globalization of markets. Environmental professionals willing to tackle new cultural climates are profiting from lucrative foreign markets for environmental goods and services.

Outsourcing and the use of temporary or contract workers are also important trends in the environmental field. Many companies are shrinking to a smaller core of full-time employees and then bringing in needed assistance through outsourcing and flexible staffing. In a tough job market, you can discover a viable alternative to a permanent job by exploring the options of contract work.

Another development is the growing requirement for environmental professionals such as engineers and lawyers to obtain continuing education credits to update their skills. Professionals will no longer be able to put down the books on graduation day. Get used to the idea of going back to the classroom for the rest of your career. Here's one more tip. A little paranoia never hurts.

This article appeared in Environmental Protection, Volume 11, Number 8, August 2000, Page 6.

This article originally appeared in the 08/01/2000 issue of Environmental Protection.