The Third Turn

Dr. Mark L. Vincent's Blog

Is the traditional concept of “career” still useful? If not, then what?

Posted by Walter Sawatzky on Oct 20, 2014 6:00:00 AM

In the brief span of my lifetime, the term “career” has evolved from meaning something respectably akin to “lifelong vocation” to now designating a temporary choice college-age adults make to satisfy their guidance counselors and parents.  Granted, that is a slight exaggeration but stay with me!

In a recent Wall Street Journal article, their “Numbers Guy”, Carl Bialik asked: “Do Americans really go through careers like they do cars or refrigerators?” He goes on to say based on his research that much of what we hear points to growing job instability and increased autonomy of workers. Among the most-repeated claims is that the average U.S. worker will have many careers—seven is the most widely cited number—in his or her lifetime.

Job researchers say the basis of the number is a mystery.  However, the notion of continual career switches is repeated in particular by career-management experts, whose jobs involve spending a lot of time with occupation switchers. "Based on my experience, I believe the typical person has six to seven careers, and the number is growing," says Jeff Neil, a New York City career specialist.

6 Steps to Finding the Work You Love. Read more from Walter Sawatzky

That estimate has had extraordinary staying power. One reason is that no one knows for sure the true average number of careers. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Labor Department's data arm, doesn't track lifetime careers. Even so, the figure is erroneously attributed to BLS so often that the agency includes a corrective memo on its website, explaining that "no consensus has emerged on what constitutes a career change."

For new generations entering the “work” world, it is no longer even thinkable to perceive oneself as a career staffer hired by some company for a fair price with an accompanying invitation to climb the corporate ladder…until retirement.  That was how workers thought in the past.  That concept of company loyalty has been dead for a decade.  Even the idea of one’s career as a ladder to be climbed is practically extinct and is being replaced by images of the vocational journey as a jungle gym.

As a result, thought leaders have been prescribing advice to workers seeking new anchors of predictability and security. Although Tom Peters’ wisdom may not provide such comfort, he says: “Starting today you are your own company.”

Many of us are now, essentially, the owners of our “careers”!  So, put yourself in the position of a marketer and embrace the fact that you have been tasked with promoting the value and impact you will make. What kinds of questions do you need to answer to market yourself?

-Walter Sawatzky


NEXT BLOG: With the increased autonomy of workers featuring a lifetime of occupational direction changes, how should we handle our own inevitable transition? 



Topics: process consulting, Process consultation and design, executive coaching, Design Group International, walter sawatzky, vocation vs career, executive transitions, career vs vocation


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