If you told 10 year old Kristen Nelson that she’d grow up to be a Plant Manager at a manufacturing plant, she wouldn’t believe you. “I really wanted to be an astronaut. That was my goal in life and something I was very much fascinated with,” she reminisces.
Although her passions changed later in life, her ambition to learn new things and advance in her career remained unwavering. And she learned that sometimes going in a different direction– and even failing– can lead to unforeseen success. “If something's different, don't discredit it because it's not an advancement or what you would consider an advancement, it can still be critical for your growth,” Kristen reflects.
We sat down with Kristen, Plant Manager at Novelis, to learn more about her career journey and how taking calculated risks helped her career in the long run.
Learning from failure
By the time Kristen made it to college, she had a clear idea of what she wanted to study. “I was always strong in math and science when I was young and I would always be inventing crazy things or taking things apart,” she explains. Her natural gifts paired with influence from her dad who owned a milling company and aunt who was an aeronautical engineer, set her up to take the route of mechanical engineering.
When choosing what school to apply to, Kristen had one main requirement: the option to study abroad. “I wanted to experience different cultures and travel,” she explains. She ended up choosing Clarkson University which had a study abroad program with a technical school in Sweden. But before she took off on her adventure, she made sure to plan accordingly. “I was very worried about graduating on time, so I spent my first two summers ahead of applying taking summer classes.”
When she set off for her adventure, she was eager to soak everything in. “Studying abroad was one of the most pivotal times in my life. It’s amazing to wake up one morning in a place that you don't really know the culture beyond what you've read,” she reminisces. Living in an unfamiliar environment taught Kristen many lessons, but one experience with a linear algebra class would shape her for life. “I failed a course for the first time ever. It was taught in full Swedish, which I was not fluent in, and it did not go well,” she confesses.
Although she was disappointed, she took some time to process the failure, and decided to learn from her situation. “I didn't take it super well, but I learned that failing is okay,” Kristen shares. “I told myself, ‘this is why you worked hard to take summer classes to make sure that you could graduate in time and you still have the time to retake the course.’” And that’s exactly what she did.
Kristen’s failure taught her the resilience she would need to get started on a professional journey. And when she came to Novelis, she was prepared for all of the problem-solving and risk management her roles required of her.
Moving up and around the career ladder at Novelis
Kristen joined Novelis in 2012 after a 5-year run at a major beverage and packing company. “I felt a little bit stagnant there, so I was looking for change, more of a challenge, more growth,” she explains. And Novelis offered her just that. Novelis is the world’s largest recycler of aluminum and a global leader in innovative products and services. And providing their employees with growth and development opportunities throughout their career is one of their priorities.
Kristen’s career trajectory over the past 10 years at the company reflects this mission. She joined as an Associate Reliability Leader, and later got to explore other roles like Engineer, Maintenance, Reliability, and Automation Leader, CI Manager, and most recently, Plant Manager.
“You can see an obvious upward trajectory, but I want to highlight that a lateral move was really key for me in my journey.” The move from a technical role into operations offered Kristen new learning opportunities. “Lateral moves give you a whole different perspective, because you are able to see aspects of the business that you haven't been exposed to before, and you’re bringing knowledge from the prior role to give a different perspective into the new one.”
Moving up and around the career ladder wasn’t always intentional for Kristen, and sometimes career moves were met with some hesitation. “There have been times where I have said, I'm not interested in changing roles at this point,” she explains. To ease some of this hesitation Kristen decided that new opportunities were worth a try, to find out if she liked them or not. By focusing on the future, she knew which direction to move in. “I spent some time putting together a personal vision of my future self and by understanding what I want to do, I’ve gotten further into my career.”
Impacting women in manufacturing
Among her various roles at the company, Kristen says some of her biggest impact has been in the employee resource group, WiN (Women in Novelis). “Our purpose is to help develop, retain, and engage strong women talent so that we can continue to grow them, as well as meet our business targets.”
As the Chair of the North American sector of WIN, Kristen spends her time creating and planning internal events, external outreach, and safe spaces for dialogue. “Some of the main pillars that we focus on are engagement, development, networking, and community outreach,” Kristen says. Just this past year, WIN has done activities for International Women’s Day, engaged with local Girl Scout troops, raised almost $5,000 for women who have experienced domestic violence, set up speaking panels, and the list goes on.
Kristen works hard to continue expanding the impact that WIN has on women and allies both inside Novelis and in the community. “So we did a SWOT analysis– our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats– and we prioritized the top items that we would like to focus on for next year. It's been fun,” Kristen shares with pride.
With her passion for supporting women in business, she offers her insight to women trying to advance in male-dominated fields.
Kristen’s advice for women on moving up the career ladder
Don’t be afraid to make a lateral move. Career growth doesn’t always mean moving upward. “Making lateral moves [can] provide you with a lifetime of experience that will help you grow and learn,” Kristen shares. Within Novelis, she moved from tech to operations and has seen many others do the same. “We've had people start in finance and end up in supply chain. We've had people start out as admin and go into commercial groups, and then end up in procurement,” Kristen explains. “Don't discredit a role just because it's not what you would consider an advancement. It can still be critical for your growth, learning, and understanding, both personally and professionally.”
Share your vision for your career. Kristen also encourages women to be vocal about their career goals. “Share your vision with people that you consider your sponsors so that they can advocate for you when roles come up when you're not in the room,” she advises. “If no one knows what you want to do or the direction you want to take, they won’t be able to support you as well.”
Step outside of your comfort zone and don’t be afraid to take calculated risks. “When you're outside of your comfort zone, that's when we tend to learn and grow as individuals,” Kristen shares. She wants other women to take the leap outside of the familiar and try something new. “There have been times in my career where I won't know if I’d like [the role] unless I try it.”
But don’t take the leap without calculating the risks first. “I always like to say that I'm a calculated risk-taker,” explains Kristen. “So I weigh in what I want the outcome to be and what an acceptable result would look like.” It’s all about finding a balance. “You don't want to just go willy nilly, but you can't be so cautious that you never really push yourself to improve.”
Do you want the opportunity to move up and around the career ladder like Kristen? Check out Novelis’ open roles here!
If you have been searching for ways to increase your income this year, then learning a new skill might be the solution for you.
As the job market evolves, so do the skills that employers desire. Whether you are creative, people-driven, technical, or analytical, you can always learn something new in your area of expertise to help you progress in your professional career. Because as we all know, the more you can add to your resume, the more desirable you become to prospective employers. And thanks to today’s unique job market, some of the most in-demand skills of 2022 have the potential to turn your income into 6-figures.
We have curated a list of the top skills of the year, their salary ranges, and some resources to help you begin your education. Whether you want to propel your career forward or are looking to negotiate for a higher salary, learning a high income skill is a valuable investment in your future – one you can start today!
Top 10 In-Demand High Income Skills
1. UX Design
The UX designer’s role is invaluable in delivering quality products to customers while also meeting the needs of the business. Being able to understand both the consumer and the developer is a key skill towards excellence in production. With UX designers in increasingly high demand, $89,822-$161,000 can be expected annually.
2. Data Analysis
Data is everywhere, and we all know how important it is when it comes to decision-making and the future of business. So, it only makes sense that data analytics interpretation and usage would be the next skill on our list. Because data and numbers drive every industry, data analysts can expect to make $73,746-$153,000 annually.
To help introduce you to data analysis, Coursera offers both free and paid courses.
3. Cloud Computing
In a time where work and education are becoming increasingly remote, helping businesses securely store and manage their data is a valuable ability. Perhaps this is why cloud computing is the one of the most in-demand, high income skills of 2022. And as a cloud computing professional, it’s possible to make $86,997-$330,000 per year!.
It’s no secret that Search Engine Optimization plays a big role in theonline success of businesses and brands, and companies are willing to pay big to have their websites rank higher on Google search results’. This is why understanding best SEO practices is the next skill on our list, and why it can rake in $69,629-$137,000 a year.
If you’re unsure of where to begin your education, Backlinko can help you get started on learning best SEO practices.
While coding is a skill that requires time and patience to learn, it’s indispensable knowledge in this increasingly digital age. Regardless of the field, there is always a need for someone who can competently and skillfully code, and the annual $68,105-$135,000 that comes with this ability reflects just how valuable it is.
6. Video Editing
YouTube and TikTok have proven just how impactful video content can be for marketing, and just as the written word requires editing, so does film! Experienced video editors are hugely in-demand, and with the possibility of earning $69,817-$143,000 annually, it is certainly not an unwise skill to add to your resume.
Here is a detailed article for those who want to get started in video editing but aren’t sure where to begin.
Since sales directly impact how much a company or business earns, the desire for adept salespeople is endless. And because this role has commission-based pay, the earnings for a skilled salesperson can range from a base salary of $71,267-$167,000 with the possibility of even higher.
If you’re unsure of where to begin, HubSpot Academy offers free courses in sales to jumpstart your education.
With international business growing, so is the need for translators. Knowing a second language is a skill that many companies need to improve their cross-cultural communication, and with translation it is possible to earn $62,529-$171,000 annually or to use your skill to negotiate for a higher salary.
9. Technical Writing
Technical writers play an essential role in helping companies better communicate with their audience. In a society where tech rules, this important skill is vital in a variety of fields, and as a technical writer it is possible to earn a salary between $76,523-$153,000.
If you are confused about where to begin your education, here are some Technical Writing Courses to help get you started.
10. Digital Marketing
With so much business being conducted online, the need for digital marketing is higher than ever. It has quickly become the most effective means of marketing today, making digital marketers an indispensable asset to any business. The high demand and the $74,373-$260,000+ paycheck makes digital marketing a wise skill to invest in.
Check out our article on Digital Marketing Career Growth to learn a little bit more about what a digital marketer is, does, and how to make the most out of your career with this skill.
How to Develop and Learn High Income Skills
Utilize free resources. There are plenty of free educational resources available online to help with developing and learning new skills. Here at PowerToFly we offer a number of free resources on our website, but other sites like YouTube, Coursera, and Grow with Google also offer a number of free programs that you can take advantage of today.
Invest in a paid course. If going back to school doesn’t sound appealing but you would like to take your education a step further, investing in a paid online course is a great option. Sites like LinkedIn, Skillshare, and Springboard offer low monthly subscriptions to gain access to hundreds of different courses, while Udemy provides courses at set costs in a variety of fields.
Take formal classes. If you are serious about your new skill and want to pursue it professionally, there is always the option of university courses or committing to gaining a degree. While a degree is not necessarily required for these skills, it is always an excellent addition to any resume and can help you obtain a more well-rounded and in-depth education that free resources may not be able to offer.
Find a mentor. By finding a mentor who has faced similar challenges and held the same goals, you can have access to an important support system to help you move forward in your professional journey. While there are different mentorship opportunities available online, we offer a variety of mentorship options here at PowerToFly. We want to help you achieve your career goals and reach your full potential by receiving the catered support that you need.
Find an internship or job. The best way to learn a high income skill is to immerse yourself in it. By gaining hands-on experience through a job or internship, you will be able to practice what you have learned in a professional environment while expanding your knowledge along the way. Keep an eye out, because we are always updating our website with available jobs and internships!
Insight from Kay Lin Nelson, Senior Manager of Inventory Planning at Chubbies
If you can predict the endings of movies and TV shows, you might be good at inventory planning, says Kay Lin Nelson, Senior Manager of Inventory Planning at Chubbies.
“It’s all about picking up patterns and paying attention to really small details,” she explains, as our focus is pulled to the ‘I love spreadsheets’ mug sitting behind her on her desk.
Kay’s prediction skills and attention to detail have helped her build a successful career in inventory planning and she wants to encourage other people who find joy in numbers to try it for themselves. “I think a lot of people like planning, but there is definitely a good group of people that are just obsessed with it, like me,” she says. “I totally nerd out over planning.”
We sat down with Kay to learn more about how she built her career in inventory planning and advice she has for people looking to start theirs.
Breaking into the Fashion Industry
Growing up in Southern California, Kay was constantly surrounded by the latest fashion trends. So when it came time to choose a college major, she didn’t think twice before deciding on fashion merchandising. “I was drawn to the fashion aspect, but I took a sewing class and ended up with so many bloody fingers!” she laughs.“It wasn't a hundred percent what I expected, because it was a lot more design focused.”
It wasn’t until she took an elective buying class that she found her passion for the business side of fashion, which is why she decided to add on a business administration degree. “It was the perfect mixture of the fashion creative world and the numerical side of things.”
After college, Kay went through an executive development program with Neiman Marcus, basically getting a 10-week crash course in fashion buying that covered retail math, profit margins, and management, as well as cross-functional experience working with marketing, finance, and other teams. “My career path went in a pretty straight line from there. I think it is the perfect mix of experiences to get into planning.”
Building Her Career
After completing the professional development program, she transitioned to a full-time position at the company as an assistant buyer where she got experience working on a team with buyers and inventory planners. “A lot of people’s end goal is to become a buyer, but in order to do that you really need to know how to plan,” Kay explains. “You can't just go from assistant buyer to buyer, because before you spend money, you need to know how the budgets got there and the reasons why the budgets are there.”
Following the standard career trajectory, Kay took on a role as senior merchandise planner, and quickly realized she enjoyed the challenge. “I originally thought I would've ended up as a buyer as well, but I just really fell in love with planning and the numbers side of things.”
After a couple of years as a merchandise planner at her first company, Kay was ready to take the next step in her career. Instead of opting to move into a buying role, according to the typical career trajectory, she decided to stay, and grow, in inventory planning at weekend apparel brand, Chubbies. “When I interviewed for the job at Chubbies, people kept referring to [it] as a startup which, to be honest, scared me a little bit coming from a hundred-year-old company that was very regimented in the way we did things.” She wasn’t sure if the fast-paced environment would be the right fit for her, but when she met with her future teammates, she was drawn to everyone’s support and drive for a common goal.
What Is Inventory Planning?
So what exactly is this inventory planning that Kay loves to nerd out on?
It’s the process of determining the right amount of stock to order for a given season. It involves managing numbers, looking at past trends, and making predictions for the future.
“Inventory planning is a really fun job with managing in-season as well as planning preseason,” says Kay. “It’s kind of like a game figuring out how to reach your goals and what steps we need to take to get there.” She breaks it down like this:
“There are two cycles of planning and they sometimes overlap. We do in-season planning every month and then we do preseason planning every quarter.”
Preseason planning: “Every quarter we go into a planning cycle where the merchant, design, and production team come up with an assortment line plan, which is, in layman terms, a list and photos of all the products that we want to present to our customers for the next planning season,” explains Kay. It is then the planner’s job to dig into the historical data of how similar products have performed in the past to project performance for the upcoming season and create a buy plan. “It's a long process of analyzing data, and it probably takes four months to do one planning cycle.”
In-season managing: “This is a month-to-month process. We start the month by analyzing what inventory we have, what inventory we are going to get that month, and how sales are doing currently.” When managing inventory in-season, it's important for planners to stay on top of the numbers and make adjustments based on current performance.
Demand planning: “Demand planning is like a forecast,” Kay explains. “How do we think we're going to do? Is there a reason we need to push higher? If we're not hitting plans, how do we figure out a way to push the current number up to that plan number? Do we do a sale? Do we go all in on marketing expenses?” Planners must be proactive and exercise their problem-solving skills in this step.
One unique aspect about this process at Chubbies is that “when we do our forecast, we actually have three different perspectives that get presented— one from marketing, one from finance, and one from inventory management,” Kay explains. This allows Kay and her team to create the most well-rounded plan. “When all the perspectives come together, it pushes out an end product that's been beaten back and forth and will be the best plan forward.”
“As a planner, it's your job to manage the inventory, so once you have that forecast, you have to figure out how to end the season with the most efficient stock to start the next season,” she explains. “That's kind of the game you play by looking at all the different analytics and deciding what to do.”
How to Be a Successful Inventory Planner
Do you think you might be good at inventory planning? Kay has three pieces of advice for professionals who want to explore the field:
1. Pay attention to the details. Inventory planning involves juggling many parts, and while grasping the big picture is necessary, paying attention to the details is crucial. “When you’re starting out in planning, it's so important to start in the details,” Kay advises. “Then as you progress in your career, you get higher up and further out—you go from doing individual SKU planning, to channel planning, to greater planning.” Understanding how the small details affect performance helps early planners build a strong base to grow from. “It’s also important to remember that everything we do in planning leads into the bigger corporate goal.”
2. Find a mentor. “Finding a mentor is important, especially as a young professional,” Kay explains. “You want to be able to pinpoint a person that can change the trajectory of your career.” In Kay’s case, she leaned on her mentors when she was deciding whether to move into buying or stay in planning. “I wouldn't be where I am today without each single person that mentored me along the way.”
3. Don’t be afraid of conflict. “Something I learned is that conflict is good. Relationship conflict is bad, but task conflict is good because you have people from different backgrounds, different perspectives, looking at the same thing in different ways.” Learning from others’ perspectives has become part of Kay’s daily work at Chubbies, as she collaborates with other teams and team members to create the most well-rounded inventory plan for each season.
Auna Walton designed her first website in high school.
She later built on that skill set while studying computer science in college.
But it wasn’t until her first Silicon Valley internship where she learned what it really meant to be a software engineer, which is her current job title at data platform company Splunk, Inc. It was less of neat assignments and more of pushing out features, and Auna rose to the occasion.
“In the classroom, all the parameters are set up nicely for you. In the real world, things aren’t set up perfectly. You may not have this, or that, and projects are undefined. You have to figure out both the problem and the solution,” she says.
But Auna is comfortable tackling problems and speaking up about how she solves them, which has been a boon to her work. We sat down with Auna to hear more about how she’s built a satisfying career, and why she’s excited to keep growing at Splunk.
Tip 1: Ask for what you need
Auna was sitting through a presentation in college about an alum’s startup when she realized that she had a lot to learn from him.
She went up to the founder, Michael, after the presentation, showed him the website she’d built for a local nonprofit during her senior year of high school and asked if she could work with him on his company’s site.
Michael said yes, and Auna credits that early professional experience with setting her up for success with future internships.
“It’s hard to go to someone and say, ‘Give me this,’ if you don’t have anything to offer,” says Auna. “So put in the time first. I know it’s not easy—you have schoolwork and you’re a human being and you need to rest—but spend time working on side projects, because it shows people what you can do.”
Having that experience on her resume prepared Auna well to do her school’s semester in Silicon Valley program, structured like a co-op model, where she worked at a startup and took classes in the area.
“It was stressful in that it was a lot of work with only six engineers. They actually used their interns. The training wheels were off, and Michael was no longer there for mentorship. But it helped me move at a faster pace and figure things out on my own,” says Auna.
Tip 2: Work to understand, even if it’s uncomfortable
Auna’s first exposure to Splunk was at the Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC), a global women in tech conference, where her school sponsored her to attend. Splunk had reached out to meet with Auna before the conference began, and upon arrival, Auna says she was immediately impressed with the company's witty t-shirt taglines and warm energy.
She got an offer to become an intern, and was placed on the company’s engineering productivity team. She helped build a tool that measured productivity, identified roadblocks and bottlenecks, and showed which stage each feature was at so that teams could make improvements based on real data insights.
When she was first assigned the project, though, Auna didn’t quite see the value in it—and she decided to tell her manager that.
“I remember thinking, ‘Okay, there’s a lot of ways this can go wrong, because I’m an intern, I’m a Black woman, and I don’t want to come off aggressive; I don’t want to step on any toes,’” says Auna. “But the culture at Splunk is truly collaborative. I knew my manager was an open-minded person and a really nice guy. I felt like I could go and give him my perspective.”
The conversation with her manager went well; he appreciated her questions and shared some of his own doubts about the project. “It was interesting to hear that managers don’t always know everything, either, and that they’re looking for their team members to contribute ideas,” says Auna.
She shifted her mindset into how she could improve the project, and ended up working with other engineers to make a tool that was more useful to them.
Tip 3: Do your best on all your work, even what seems small
After finishing her internship, Auna accepted a full-time offer at Splunk and moved to the Bay Area to start work. While she’s been mostly remote because of the pandemic, she’s happy to have made the move and to have stuck with Splunk. (Though she is now on an external-facing team—a move that her management fully supported.)
Auna says she feels taken care of by Splunk, citing benefits like extra time off called “pandemic days” that employees can take to deal with health concerns or family responsibilities and a “power hour” each day in which employees are encouraged to spend 60 minutes of each workday focused on their mental or physical wellbeing.
“Sometimes I tell my parents about these benefits and they’re like, ‘Are you guys working over there?’” says Auna, laughing. “It truly feels like we’re all a team. If we have the mentality that we can take breaks, we can keep working towards our goals. And it’s about all of us. If I’m successful on my project, we’re all successful as a company.”
With her renewed energy, Auna is able to dedicate herself fully to her work, and encourages budding engineers to find ways to do the same. As an example, she cites a collaborative side project she built with two engineering productivity interns during a Splunk hackathon—and put her all into—that has grown into something that the company uses every day.
“Try to do things that you may not think will bring value, but very well might,” she says. “Even if it looks small, it could really blossom into something huge.”