A multi-faceted career is no longer remarkable. In fact, it’s quickly becoming the norm. Up until the 90s, the traditional approach to career progression was built on the ‘job-for-life’ mantra. This view promoted the acquisition of a ‘qualification for life’ and the development of specific associated skills, including the mastery of skill-based technology, to succeed through a linear career path. The pinnacle reward was securing permanent employment status, a concept which identified employees as repositories of knowledge – assets an organisation needed to source, recruit and retain for future business success.
The latest statistics show this way of thinking is well-and-truly on the way out, with more than 50 per cent of individuals who are in between jobs choosing to change their industry and more than 40 per cent choosing to change their major occupational group. Along with the desire to change careers, the frequency in which we do so is also increasing. At present, individuals tend to remain in their roles for five years on average. This is expected to drop to three years over the next ten years.
In light of these trends, the question we need to ask is: how do we prepare and position ourselves for success in the future world of work? The need to develop skills in career transition will soon apply to everyone, not just the future leaders and courageous candidates of the world. What’s critical for us to understand is the specific skills we need to develop.
In the current marketplace, the job-for-life approach has been replaced by a desire for diverse career experiences. In order to navigate the new land of opportunity, professionals must adopt a life-long learning approach and develop a wider collection of associated skills, which can be applied to multiple occupational groups and industries – in other words, ‘transferable skills’. Rather than being the ‘holder of knowledge’, more emphasis needs to be placed on an individual’s ability to find and evaluate information. This leads to an expectation for rapid technological uptake and innovative learning.
Evidently, the future world of work will require career transition skills, which allow a person to reinvent themselves, time and again, to remain relevant. This theory is supported by Reid Hoffman, an American entrepreneur, venture capitalist and author, who is best known as the co-founder of LinkedIn. Reid acknowledges that constant career reinvention is the cornerstone of the future. He explains it as, “Maintaining our careers in a state of permanent beta,” (i.e. a continual work in progress).
In Hoffman’s view, keeping your career in constant flux forces you to acknowledge your ‘bugs’, or the fact that there’s always room for improvement and development. This life-long learning approach will help career participants evolve successfully within the growing VUCA environment (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous). Drawing parallels to business entrepreneurs, he stresses we each need to become career entrepreneurs – constantly reviewing our strengths, aspirations and market realities to boost our competitive advantage.
Bill Burnett, the Executive Director of the Design Program at Stanford, confirms the need for continual reinvention, stressing that the ’70-year career’ of the future will accommodate two to three completely different career paths. This highlights the inadequacy of the traditional linear model, which bread the notion that career success is discovered by ‘finding your passion’. Burnett and others in this field, such as Cal Newport, all agree that the idea of ‘finding one’s passion’ is one of the most disruptive concepts for any individual. What’s needed is a road map for navigating the challenging road ahead.
Professional reinvention, like all change-based projects, requires both technical and adaptive skills. From a technical perspective, we suggest there are three main sources of individual action for career progression and transition, which you can take today to prepare for the future world of work:
Understand your direction: as we move into a job world characterised by countless opportunities, understanding your true purpose, values, and desires will provide the rudder you need to navigate the market.
Build a network of trusted advisors: and start today. You will need a network of confidants who can help you evaluate your career path, review your skill progression, and explore your next career move.
Build career capital: you don’t need to discover your passion to start moving along the road to success. In fact, what you do professionally has little to do with it. What’s really important is how you proceed. Keep testing your skills. Strive to be leading-edge. Embrace the uncomfortable and new. Don’t limit yourself to repetition and comfort. Through deliberate practice, you’ll develop specialised skills, which will become your competitive advantage.
Lastly, to effectively manage your progression in an increasingly VUCA environment, you must build your adaptive skills and capacity to meet the changing demands of a fluid work environment. The key challenge ahead is a development one: how can we improve our ability to make sense of the world around us? As we are faced with growing complexity and more challenges, we need to take our knowledge and competencies to the next level.
Our ability to progress and succeed in the future world of work will be determined by a number of factors, including:
- our understanding of human motivation (knowing you are inherently motivated to steer clear of uncertainty and anxiety and move towards comfort and predictability);
- our self-awareness and ability to recognise the anxieties and assumptions which are holding us back; and,
- our capacity to experiment and explore throughout our career and using this curiosity to rewire and broaden the way we think.
As with any change in behaviour, it’s critical to understand that adaptive skills are equally as important as the technical skills we have outlined. They work hand-in-hand. As a trusted colleague of mine once said, “There’s no benefit in showing me how to use a treadmill if you can’t show me how to develop the commitment to getting on the treadmill at 5am every morning.”
Ultimately, successful transition through any change pathway requires the grit and resilience to stand in the face of adversity as well as a commitment to developing the technical skills needed for advancement. Have the courage to take the first step.