If you want to change career it is a leap into the unknown. Any seasoned rocker, accomplished in the art of crowd-surfing, will tell you that that there are two fundamental pre-conditions that need to be satisfied before taking the plunge.
The impetus to commit is the first. A degree of narcotic coursing through your veins may well embolden you, derived naturally from the dopaminergic effect of adoring crowds, or from other means, it doesn’t really matter. The second, is the requirement to have a crowd. But not just any crowd: there needs to be a lot of them ideally, they need to be looking your way and you want to be confident that they aren’t going to dodge out the way at the last moment when they see a wild-eyed human missile flying towards them at speed. Even the most egotistical, drug-fuelled front-man is unlikely to take the leap in the absence of a crowd.
Career change can feel like a leap of faith, and the overwhelming likelihood is that there will be no crowd there to catch and support you. To change career you need resolve and it can present a seemingly impossible challenge, particularly towards the mid or later periods of your working life. And it’s no wonder; society simply isn’t geared-up for it.
Retirement may be a thing of the past
The concept of retirement, essentially born in the 20th century, bookends the ‘education-work-retire’ model, described so vividly in Lynda Gratton’s and Andrew Scott’s The 100 Year Life. You learn, you pick a direction, you stick with it with the aim of amassing sufficient assets for you to fund an indeterminate period of retirement which, typically, commences in your 60s. That’s the story we are all raised on, and one which we still subscribe to unquestioningly.
Society is constructed around this model. So much so in fact, that any attempt to step outside the model and not just change job but to actually change career, often means re-writing the rule-book. And it gets harder as you get older – changing career at 30 or 40 or 50 can seem an almost insurmountable task.
Why is changing career direction so difficult?
Let me count the ways! The principle challenges however lie with employer policies, financing, education and, of course, self-belief.
employer recruitment and career development policy is largely driven by the desire to match experience and qualifications, rather than skills and strengths. This is a fundamental problem for the career ‘transitioner’. To be given a ‘fair chance’, employers need to expand their policies to encompass evaluation of these less tangible determinants. A strengths-based policy is in fact likely to be much a more successful one for businesses to adopt, as evidenced through Gallup’s wonderfully perceptive and revealing State of the Global Workplace research. Employer’s doors are simply not open to people wanting to try something new.
the financial hurdles are paramount. Unless money is no object for you, negotiating any kind of fundamental shift in working patters or career change will have an immediate, and likely long-term, impact upon your income and, consequently, your lifestyle. Our retirement funding is often locked-up in products that are designed around the traditional three-stage model. Until we rethink how we save and when we access these savings, financial constraints present a significant barrier to overcome. That said, I suspect that the importance of money is over-emphasised by those who lack the belief and resolve to really stick with a programme of career change or job transition.
comes education. Nowhere do we see the three-stage model more deeply embedded. Formal education (education that culminates in a nationally recognised qualification) stops for most people at 18. For the luckier ones it goes on until 21. After that it’s all about industry qualifications and learning that ties you more and more to one career. The Office of National Statistics’ Adult Education Survey 2016 provides insights into the learning patterns of adults. Formal learning falls from 35% in the early 20s to less that 10% by mid to late 40s and to virtually nothing by the early 60s. 60% said that their reasons for learning was ‘to increase my chance of getting a job, or changing a job’ although this figure is weighted heavily by the younger respondents, but it does suggest that finding a career path is fundamentally tied-up with education.
The stats support that which you would expect to be true: the better educated amongst us continue to seek out education later in life. Better educated parents mean better educated children and there is a strong correlation between learning and annual income and role. Those who are working full-time are much more likely to undertake formal education. So the data would suggest that, for whatever reason, the vast majority of the population have stopped formal education by the time they are over 40. To compound the challenge, the commercial value of education fades over time, particularly with regard to industry qualifications. Where this isn’t ‘topped-up’ regularly, the value of the individual in the labour market will likewise fade, and this serves to further frustrate the progress of mid-life career change.
comes self-belief. It is not commonplace for people to change occupations. It appears to be the exception rather than the norm. So it’s unsurprising that those of us that do have the desire to change, feel out of step with society. But this feeling is actually a misconception. Gallup tells us that only 17% of workers are actively engaged in their work (11% in the UK) which means that well over 80% of people are not satisfied enough with their work to fully commit. So if you feel as though you could be doing more with your life, chances are that eight of the 10 people working alongside you are feeling exactly the same way. But the story we all live tells us that this is simply what we do. We don’t question it and so people feel as though the leap is impossible. Without the role models, the pioneers, we have no template for change and the ambition feels unreachable.
Why is choosing the right career path so important?
Why is any of this important? Surely, finding a job you love is a luxury aspiration, not a necessity. Perhaps at one time, yes, but times they are a changing. The reasons go way deeper than simply an affluent, middle-class reverie to ‘live your passion’. The social, macro-economic and commercial impacts are looming. The ability to change career and transition jobs regularly and fluidly will become a fundamental expectation and necessity of modern life.
We’re all living longer
We are living much longer, on average an additional two years for every decade that passes. Over one third of babies in the western world will now live to over 100 years old. Traditional pension models such as state-funded ‘pay as you go’ or ‘final salary’ are disappearing over the hill, being replaced with personally-accountable models such as defined contribution. But the very reasons why the traditional schemes no longer work are the same reasons why the new ones will fall short: we simply cannot save enough money in a 40-year working life to fund 30 years of retirement – or more.
The only answer, and the reality of this has not yet filtered into the public consciousness, is to work longer. In time, the majority of people will be working well into their 70s. This cannot be over-emphasised. New career patterns and sequencing will have to emerge, and the freedom to transition and change careers will be the bedrock of productive contribution to the labour market. As individuals, as corporations and as governments, we will all need to accept and adapt to multi-stage lives.
We’re not engaged in our work
Productivity is in crisis. As we’ve seen, the vast majority of workers are simply not engaged in their work. The impact reaches far beyond the individual. Discretionary effort for 80% of workers is non-existent and, as a consequence, productivity is low. The implications for company profits and GDP are almost incalculable.
But here is the key – solving the second problem helps to solve the first problem. If we are to keep workers productively contributing to the labour market for longer, and we must – that’s the only option – then as individuals we need to feel as though our work can be sustained past 60, past 65 and past 70. Maybe even past 75.
How would you feel about doing the same job for the next 25 years?
How would you feel about this prospect right now? An additional ten, twenty, twenty five years of work, under duress, is going to take its toll on our physical and mental health and, as a consequence, our productivity will decline significantly. Sustainable work is work where we feel valued, where our strengths are being used and where we have a high degree of autonomy and flexibility. For many, this will mean making changes in not only how we work and where we work, but the very work itself.
So the challenge for the next three quarters of the 21st century will be to make it possible for people to change careers.
When people decide to jump off the stage we will need to be there to catch them.
We need to build a future where it’s OK to want to change careers.
The result will mean sustainable retirement models, economic security and growth and, just maybe, a greater degree of personal fulfilment.
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Career Change Network is about creating a community to support and facilitate career change