The future killed the career

2011-12-10 12:50

We are reaching an interesting tipping point regarding how, when and what we do – or define – as work. If you compare the work or, for that matter, career aspirations of the baby-boomer generation (generally those who are currently in top management) with that of the millennials, or Generation Y (our future workforce), it is like comparing apples and artichokes.

Most baby-boomers have had a job for life and, in essence, that was the ultimate goal. The more adventurous of this generation would perhaps change their jobs two, possibly three, times in their lifetimes. It is quite normal for baby-boomers to notch up 20 to 30 years working for one company.

In stark contrast, early research shows that millennials will change their jobs approximately 29 times in their lifetimes. That’s an average of just under one and a half years per job, and if you speak to any HR department they will confirm this growing trend.

This may sound radical, but even now, an average of five years in one job is considered an acceptable tenure before moving on.

If you factor in the speed with which technology changes our social dynamics, it’s not hard to imagine the knock-on effect it will have on our work lives. The only problem standing in the way of change is our ingrained definitions of work and career.

Working remotely has been made possible with technology. You really don’t have to be in one physical space from 9 to 5. But distrust that employees will slack off is a common perception, especially in the corporate world. Statistics, however, are proving these traditionalists wrong. Productivity actually increases when employees are given a more flexible work environment.

But it is not just when and where we are working that is changing rapidly; how we work is what will revolutionise our job and career aspirations. For millennials, there is already a tendency towards having multiple jobs to suit multiple interests, hence the term “slashies” – people who sell themselves as writer/web designer/yoga teacher/DJ.

Ironically, big businesses are also becoming slashies. Supermarkets provide payment points for utility bills, cellphone companies offer banking services and magazines are becoming retailers. The steady blurring of these business templates requires a very different workforce, and the change is happening faster than most companies can adapt, which is why a freelance slashie workforce is able to exist.

Once you see the shifting nature of the work environment, you start to question the way education is structured. Are our tertiary institutions adequately preparing a future workforce for a fast-changing work environment? Many of the jobs our current primary school learners will have don’t even currently exist. Is the traditional template of ending your education in your mid-20s appropriate for the 21st century?

I recently attended a talk by “boredom slayer” Richard Mulholland, who spoke about “the death of the career”. One of the points he made was that education should never stop after university.

We upgrade and maintain our cars and houses, but we don’t seem to do the same for ourselves. As a result, we unwittingly make ourselves redundant. His argument adds fuel to the growing debate that the future of work is actually continual learning.

If we look at our working lives from a different angle – the age of retirement – this debate becomes more interesting. Not only are we living longer, but people are staying in the workforce far longer.

The concept of retirement itself is changing. If the idea of one job for life is being replaced by multiple careers, and undertaking the relevant upskilling to do so, then the notion of education for 20-plus years, followed by 30 to 40 years of work and ending with 10 to 20 years of retirement becomes outdated.

Stefan Sagmeister is one man who practises this new approach to the future of work.

He runs a design studio in New York and has started to take year-long sabbaticals every seven years. He simply closes his business for an entire year to pursue new ideas. It makes perfect sense.

So as you start your year-end holiday, take some time to contemplate if this way of working will motivate you more. I’m sure I already know
the answer.

» Chang is the founder of Flux Trends. Visit 

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