Ways to protect yourself should your employment change.

If there is one lesson to be learned from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, it's never to forget history. Economies overheat. Companies fire or reassign workers even in the best of economic times. No one's job is certain.

The best advice going into the recovery is to bulletproof one's career as much as possible.That's why it makes sense to create a permanent career safety net that can protect you if an employer makes a change, your own business slows or you simply want to take your life in a different direction. Here are ways to get there:

Get your bearings professionally, personally and financially: It's tough to plan effectively for the future when you really don't know where you are right now. It might help to talk to experts in career, tax and financial planning disciplines to understand where your career is going and whether you have the money you need to support the lifestyle you want while you're working, college for your kids and a solid retirement afterward. A good first step in the process is finding an advisor who can help you answer those big questions, such as a financial planning professional. You'll find that your conversation will focus far beyond money toward these broader goals.

Get rid of debt and start that emergency fund: Everyone worries when they're out of a job. The best way to face change financially is with little or no debt and money in reserve. So if you're still employed, focus immediately on getting rid of credit card, school and automotive debt first. If you're done with that, start working on an emergency fund equal to 3 to 6 months of living expenses as soon as you can. If you've still got your job after you hit your emergency fund target, then keep your tight spending in force and stay away from the credit cards.

Keep an eye on trends in pay, severance, insurance options: Depending where you are in an organization, special treatment isn't always possible on exit packages from an employer. But knowledge is power. It's always a good idea to keep an eye on news stories and information inside the company about salary and benefit levels during good times, and severance and post-separation benefits in bad. That way, you'll be ready for a severance discussion before it happens. Also keep an eye on the effect continuing health care reform efforts may have on COBRA, the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, a program that gives workers who lose their health benefits and their families the right to choose to continue benefits under their group plan for a limited time.

Understand where the hot jobs in your industry are going to be: The Bureau of Labor Statistic publishes an invaluable online resource, the Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH). The OOH can be a great accompaniment to trade magazines and other industry resources to keep in touch with employment forecasts and additional education you may need to advance.

Get personal disability coverage now: Disability coverage offered through your workplace may barely cover you if you are disabled while working, but once your job is gone, there goes your coverage. It's always a good idea to have some personal disability coverage of your own, and you should buy it while you're employed because you need to prove income before you can get the maximum coverage based on your current income. No job, no income, so do it now.

Understand your unemployment benefits: If you don't get severance, you'll need to file for unemployment benefits right away, but in some states, you might qualify for benefits once severance runs out.

Use those education benefits or budget for retraining: College gets more expensive every year, but it's one of the best ways to invest your money because you're investing in yourself. If you're keeping a close eye on how your industry is evolving, you should also be keeping track of how educational requirements are evolving as well. Thinking of changing careers? It's even more important to get the training you'll need to make sure the choice is a right one.

This column is provided by the Financial Planning Association (FPA) of Central Ohio, the leadership and advocacy organization connecting those who provide, support and benefit from professional financial planning. FPA is the community that fosters the value of financial planning and advances the financial planning profession and its members demonstrate and support a professional commitment to education and a client-centered financial planning process.