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Want to stay in the game? // Stay supple


It's a key to success in today's volatile job market.

Being flexible means being able to rebound after being downsized or being adaptable enough to do all the work required of a bare-bones staff.

It means having the ability to keep on going, no matter what: By being willing to take a job with a lesser title or lower salary. By being positive about switching careers.

They don't teach these skills in school. But you need them.

Being flexible means you're smart enough and secure enough to make a lateral move, to welcome retraining, to be willing to go wherever the jobs are, to move from a for-profit job to a non-profit one, or vice versa.

Flexibility in today's job market _ where in a nanosecond you can be replaced by a computer program, or your job can disappear or go overseas _ often means taking a risk.

"People have to understand that in the new labor market, there are no rules, no lifetime jobs and no security," said Dr. Julianne Malveaux, an economist in Washington. "It's a dynamic market where winners are those who always are prepared for change."

Malveaux says you have to be willing to take chances. She has done that herself.

A professor, lecturer and author in San Francisco, Malveaux decided to concentrate on media work. She moved 3,000 miles away from her friends and family to become a political commentator in Washington, D.C.

Now she's host and executive producer of a talk show on Pacifica radio. She also heads her own media firm, Last Word Productions.

"By taking a risk, I don't mean jumping out of a plane without a parachute," Malveaux said. "I do mean have a portfolio of skills you can apply in many areas. That's what it takes to stay in the game."

J. David Quilter was a U.S. Marine captain, a Vietnam veteran, a federal narcotics enforcement officer and a human resources executive for a San Antonio, Texas, firm. Quilter was devastated last year when he lost his job as a human resources manager for a private company.

"After 26 years of progressively long-term, high-profile management jobs _ at one point I was in charge of employees worldwide for the Drug Enforcement Administration _ there I was, looking for a job."

Quilter, 51, decided to move to Chicago to be with his fiance and job hunt. "I've targeted my search to the area of risk and security management. I'm willing to take a lower-level job and less salary," he said.

Tracy L. Clark, economist with the Economic Outlook Center at Arizona State University in Tempe, said: "I urge people to look throughout the U.S. for jobs, particularly if there are none where they live.

"There are several sections that are very strong. If you're in a profession connected with high tech, look in California, Arizona and Idaho. The Midwest has aeronautical jobs, and Chicago, San Francisco and New York have finance-related opportunities."

In the South, Clark notes, Atlanta is the strongest hub for job growth in large metropolitan areas, followed by Tampa.

Other growth cities are Phoenix and Portland, Ore., according to the Blue Chip Job Growth Update, a monthly publication of the economic center.

"Don't limit yourself to a narrow field or narrow location," Clark said. "You might miss an opportunity."