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As lifelong single-employer careers disappear into the mists of history, individuals are becoming compelled to take greater personal responsibility for managing their careers and getting the personal and professional development they need. Employers can differentiate themselves by investing in talent development regardless of the likelihood that the beneficiaries are more likely than ever to be taking their skills elsewhere. But society needs to play its part in oiling the wheels too.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, I spent several years working as a consultant in the UK electricity generating industry as it went through the process of privatisation and commercialisation. Each month, the corporate newspaper contained a long list of employees who were marking their 25th, 30th and 40th anniversaries with the organisation.
The electricity sector was far from unique. Spending most or all of one’s career with a single organisation was commonplace. A generalisation, for sure, but a fair one with which to work. To be honest, looking at employment data, I can’t think of an area I’ve researched in which it was so easy to find statistics that both confirm and negate any point of view one may choose to adopt. However, one compelling indicator of how things have changed is the revelation in a 2016 McKinsey study that the average lifespan of companies listed in the Savings & Poor 500 had dropped from 61 years in 1958 to 18 years at the time of their research. In the UK, AJ Bell reported in 2019 that only 30 of the companies that had featured in the first FTSE 100, 35 years previously, were still in existence. There’s enough evidence to support the contention that a job for life in a single organisation is not the basis on which any of us should be planning, and that employment, in general, is more volatile in today’s world than it ever has been. And, just to inject a further nuance, let’s not forget that more and more economically active people – whether by choice or not – are today working outside the employment model. ONS data shows that, between 2000 and 2020, the number of self-employed in the UK increased by 50% whilst those in employment went up by just 17%. The latter remains by far the larger constituency – 85% of the total (down from 88% in 2000) but the shift is clear.
What does this say for career planning and talent development?
For the individual, there’s little choice but to recognise that we each have to take responsibility for our own career. This has always been true to an extent, of course, but as you made your way through twenty years or more with the same employer you generally got a lot of support and direction on the journey. Some companies managed career progression far better than others, but the support was there. For the growing number of people who either work for themselves, or in microbusinesses, or whose career path has become a series of relatively short stays with different employers, the buck starts and stops with them. There’s nobody else to plan your next career steps for you or to make sure you get the learning and development you need.
And this is happening at a time of unprecedented change in the world of work, as old occupations disappear and new ones emerge at speed. It’s a time when every one of us is in greater need than ever of an informed understanding of the environment in which they operate, how it is changing, what skills and competencies are going to be marketable: in short, the tools to plan our career progression amidst the continuous turbulence and change.
Where to start to meet this need? The irony is that there’s no shortage of solutions. The market is awash with both advisors and technology platforms that support career planning and talent development. Many companies make good use of these services, but there’s a big gap: how can each individual, whether self-employed or unemployed, get the support and advice they so badly need?
Enlightened employers have a part to play in this. They will help themselves by investing in first class services, irrespective of the risk that sometimes it will be another employer, as well as the individual, who benefits from the investment. But at the same time, they’ll be increasing the chances of their best employees staying with them and of attracting top talent into the organisation, as we discussed in a previous post; and a capable person who leaves the business with a positive experience behind them is a valuable friend and advocate wherever they go.
However, I believe that as a society we need to go further than this. We talk about the possible merits of a Universal Basic Income, and whilst I’m not going to get into that here, Universal Basic Career Planning sounds like a great investment of taxpayers’ money to me. From school leaver to active septuagenarians and octogenarians, millions of people could benefit from having access to expert, professional advice and properly curated material to help them to map their interests and abilities onto career opportunities and decisions, to identify new training and development paths, to build up their understanding of how the world of work is changing and what it could mean for them – regardless of educational background, areas of interest and competence, or employment status. Such services could be delivered by commercial providers, professional organisations, social enterprises and charities. The possibilities are endless, the social and economic returns would be high and the need, in today’s noisy and ever-changing world, is surely incontrovertible.
This post is part of our Future of Work series. You can read the previous post or find them all in our Future of Work section. If you’d like to discuss how we can help get you prepared for the way work and business is changing, then please contact us.