According to the U.S. Department of Labor, those born between 1957 and 1964 (the end of the baby boom generation) held 10.2 jobs on average during their first 20 years in the work force. Changing jobs is more frequently necessary in recent periods than in earlier eras.
People therefore either do or should spend more time planning flexible careers. The greater dynamism in the labor market is due to many factors. Increases in productivity have been mirrored by down-sizing of production and service forces. Modern means of data handling and communications have changed the manner in which sales and administrative work are done. In parallel with the growth of many new employment benefits have come increased costs—which many corporations have begun to shed by transferring labor from full-time employees (who get such benefits) to independent contractors, temporary employees, and outsourced laborers (who do not). Many people face new careers—abruptly and involuntarily.
They have been downsized or laid off.
At the same time, and in parallel with these broad trends, the educational attainment of individuals entering the work force is much higher. The workforce is not only better trained but much better informed. The same dynamics that cause contractions in many traditional industries create opportunities in emerging fields.
Individuals see opportunities that draw them. They change careers—voluntarily. They are drawn by greener pastures and shimmering rainbows.
Changing jobs is most stressful for those who must do so involuntarily. Richard Ream, writing in Information Today recently counseled such people as follows: “Careers are linear in foresight but circuitous in hindsight, and chance favors the prepared mind. What you need as you plan yours is to sustain curiosity, optimism, flexibility, and open-mindedness.”
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Persons facing involuntary changes in making a living typically follow a sequence of activities which, in another sense, represent the available options. They 1) attempt to find another, similar job in the same or related industry or sector doing essentially what they have done before.
Or, 2), they make use of a secondary skill or previous experience to change industry/sector. Or, 3), they return to school to acquire a new or enhanced set of skills drawn either by inclination or by studying the job market. Or, 4), they choose to obtain work in the same or related specialty as a self-employed person; this is often relatively easy for some—sometimes even with the old employer.
Or, 5) they opt to start a business of their own.
To some extent these five alternatives may be pursued in parallel. Thus a person may get another job but, anticipating further problems, may stay in an exploratory posture, enroll in some courses of study, and engage in a serious reassessment of his or her career path. A selfemployed person may decide, after a while, that with a little more effort, investment from friends, and joining with a friend or two, the “self-employment” may be turned into a small business.
When these activities are undertaken with a certain heightened consciousness, the search for “what to do next” may evolve into career planning and, sometimes, a change in careers.
The Elements Of A Plan
Like any planning activity, in business as in personal life, a change in careers begins with 1) environmental assessment, internal and external, 2) goal setting, 3) evaluation of alternatives, 4) cost assessment, and 5) implementation.
In addition to the mechanics, career planning requires self-knowledge, honesty, and systematic work.
Perhaps the most important aspect of a career change not listed above is drive. As Jessica Jarvis pointed out in a recent article in Personnel Today, research carried out by the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development “shows [that] it is critical to be proactive in your career.
The single most important factor in getting to the top …, the research found, was personal drive and ambition.”
The environmental assessment must begin with a list of the person’s skills and the extent to which these are certifiable (through degrees or experience). High levels of skill in an activity the person hates are useless. Therefore the assessment should focus on a combination of skills and personal inclination. This effort should result in a listing of activities, jobs, or involvements the career planner would be happy and able to do. This is the “internal” part of the environmental survey. The next step is study of the labor market for activities that match the person’s profile. Goal setting is the consequence of this initial match of internal resources and external opportunities.
Experts in the field suggest that the person should “enlist expert counsel.” Thus John Lees recently wrote in Personnel Today: “Seek advice from senior colleagues or a mentor to help you create an action plan and clarify your performance objectives. This will help you keep focused and motivated.”
Evaluation of alternatives may, all depending, involve studying companies to interview, curricula to pursue in school, or even looking at potential sites for starting up a store. At this point the career seeker is still only evaluating choices, not making decisions. Each alternative will have a monetary, time, and possibly also an emotional cost. Cost assessment follows. Here the career seeker may be required to make hard choices. He or she may accept two years’ of study and a low income, meanwhile, from a part-time job, in order to achieve the highest goal—or an immediate job campaign to get a start at a lower level now. Whatever the choice, its success will depend on consciously carrying out the last step, implementation.
Continuous Career Planning
Statistics on the number of businesses there are in the U.S. each year provide an interesting glimpse into trends in our economy. What these data from the U.S. Bureau of the Census show is that the number of single-person firms grew rapidly between 1997 and 2003. In fact, they grew at a rate of 21 percent. This is a growth rate 6 percent higher than the growth rate for all firms and more than twice as fast a growth rate as was seen for all firms with three or more employees. People are clearly working on their own in greater numbers and in many case they are establishing single-person businesses in which to do so. The very meaning of “career” for most people is changing from being a single more or less continuous activity to a succession of different activities in a rapidly changing environment. Career planning, therefore, will for most forward-looking individuals become a continuous activity repeated at regular intervals.