I’ve been working in my field for a very long time now, roughly 10 years to be exact. In those 10 years I’ve managed to keep learning new things year after year. Sometimes these new skills were learned with specific purposes or through on the job encounters. On the other hand, I’ve also had jobs that really didn’t challenge me and that I could easily get by without doing much or without growing professionally.

While these types of jobs can be “easy” or “fun” for people that know how to fill their free time, they can be really detrimental to your professional growth. To combat this negative growth I’ve really had to be deliberate about growing my skill set and expanding my knowledge. I’ve not always done a great job of making the most out of my situations at all times and there are times where I’ve looked at myself and thought “I really could be doing a lot more with my time.”

When you find yourself in that type of situation, how do you keep yourself from growing stagnant and becoming irrelevant? You never stop moving forward. I don’t mean this in a truly literal sense. I mean it in the sense that in most jobs the industry will continue to evolove and expand. When you find yourself stationary, you will find yourself becoming irrelevant as the industry passes you by. If you commit to forward movement though, you will either maintain the status quo and merely keep pace with the industry or if you work really hard you can be a trailblazer and lead the industry.

It takes a lot of dedication and work just to keep up, so it stands to reason that being a trailblazer is immensely difficult and it is. That’s why there are so few of them.

So just how do you keep up with a growing industry? For starters, you need to analyze what your current skill set is. If you don’t know where you are, how will you know where you need to go?

Once you’ve established where you are you need to get a feel for where the industry is headed. You can do this a number of ways, and I do all of them with some regularity.

Check out current job listings

It might seem like an odd thing to do and your employer might look at you funny if they notice, but what better way to see what future jobs will require than to look at current job openings. Don’t limit your scope to local jobs either. Check the regional areas that are the epicenter for your industry and see what skills are in demand.

Join an onilne community

It’s easy to see where an industry is headed if you are part of the community of that industry. Not all industries have online communities so you may have to venture out and do some networking.

Subscribe to some periodicals

Get a subscription to a few of the industry magazines or start reading their respective websites on a daily/weekly basis. This will introduce you to new concepts/technology in your field and give you cues on where things are headed

Once you gather all of this information, just how do you apply it? That really depends on your job/industry. For me, it’s reading and doing. Getting my feet wet with new technology in some sort of demo or building a new application using a new language or framework. The hard part is figuring out what skills are hot and getting in on the action early. It’ll be up to you to take charge and make yourself one of the elite.