The Future of Career
A 'careerquake' is shaking the foundations of what we mean by 'career', according to TONY WATTS, Director of the National Institute for Careers Education and Counselling, in Cambridge, UK. Watts was the leading speaker at the international careers conference held in Wellington 21-23 January 1997. He called for a reconstruction of our view of careers, as new models of work call the old models of careers guidance into question. This is an essential summary of his paper presented to the conference.
There is widespread recognition that we are in the middle of a major historical transformation to a post-industrial, post-modern information age. There is also a growing awareness that this is likely to imply a profound revolution in the nature and structures of both work and of career.
This represents a careerquake: a shaking of the foundations of our traditional conceptions, and a need to reconstruct them in new forms, adapted to new contexts.
The careerquake threatens individuals sense of their identity; it also threatens our social fabric. It could potentially offer new opportunities for more widespread personal fulfilment, but only if we can develop new social forms which will enable us to realise this potential.
Many have decentralised decision-making and engaged in "delayering" — reducing the layers of management or supervision. In some cases, more fluid forms of organisation are being developed, often based on time-focused, task-driven teams. Rigid job demarcation is rapidly disappearing. Clearly differentiated and discrete roles — and the orderly career paths that go with them — are increasingly being replaced by team-working and multi-skilling.
This takes two main forms. One is increased "outsourcing" and contracting out to suppliers: as a result more employees are now based in small and medium-sized rather than large organisations, and more individuals are self-employed.
The other is for employers to seek more flexible working arrangements with their own employees: the proportion of part-time workers has grown massively; so have the number of "teleworkers" working from home, and the numbers of casual workers and workers on short-term contracts.
The effect of these various trends is a profound change in the "psychological contract" between the individual and the organisation — their perceptions of the obligations each has to the other. The traditional contract was a long-term relational one, based on security and reciprocal loyalty: this has largely broken down.
Now the contract tends increasingly to be a short-term transactional one, based on a narrower and more purely economic exchange. Even where the relational contract survives, it commonly involves exchanging job security for greater task flexibility.
Security, it is argued, lies not in employment but in employability: accumulating skills and reputation that can be invested in new opportunities as they arise. This leads to the notion that individuals, whether formally self-employed or not, should regard themselves as self-employed, taking responsibility for their own career-long self-development.
The key to reconciling social equity and upgrading of skills with a flexible labour market is a much broader concept of career, supported by appropriate social institutions and incentives. Instead of being viewed narrowly as a progression up the hierarchy within an organisation, careers should be viewed as the individual's lifelong progression in learning and in work.
We need to reform the welfare state to provide a base of support to more flexible and individually-driven careers, linked to a wider concept of work. The welfare state that emerged following the Second World War was based on a series of assumptions about family, work and the life cycle.
The family was assumed to combine a full-time stably-employed male wage-earner, with a wife primarily devoted to her work within the home. It was further assumed that their life-cycles were orderly, standardised and predictable, that male employment was assured, and that the welfare state could therefore concentrate on childhood and old age, being largely passive during the active middle part of the life-cycle.
The concept of unemployment — an industrial notion whose time has passed — would disappear from the dictionary. With it would go poverty traps and the pressures to squeeze economic activities into the black economy. More flexible patterns of work would be positively encouraged rather than — as at present — discouraged.
Both unions and professional associations now need to pay more attention to supporting individual career development within a flexible labour market. This requires greater attention to services to individual members, including offering professional development and career guidance, as well as acting as agents and advocates for individuals in their negotiations with employers.
Some companies are developing a new "psychological contract" in which they seek to offer employees security not by offering a "job for life" but by providing training and development opportunities which will extend their marketable skills and sustain their "career resilience". In general, however, the rhetoric in this respect is running well ahead of the reality. Most employers are in practice unwilling to provide any training that is not strictly related to immediate job needs.
New models of work are calling the old models of learning into question. Learning no longer precedes work: it is interwoven with work, on a lifelong basis. The pace of technological change also means that the "shelf-life" of work skills and knowledge are getting ever shorter. "Just-in-time" work systems require "just-in-time" learning. More frequent movement between jobs requires regular learning of new competencies. More and more jobs require "multi-skilling": a broader and more flexible range of skills, demanding a wider base of understanding.
Source -- "The Future of Career and of Career Guidance" by A.G. Watts, National Institute for Careers Education and Counselling , Cambridge, UK.
TONY WATTS is the Author of Careerquake (1996) London:Demos. His recent work has included studies of the application of market principles to guidance delivery and of the educational and vocational guidance systems in the Member States of the European Union. The conference "Career Planning: Signposting the Future" was organised by The Careers Service Rapuara in Wellington 21-23 January 1997.