We have to think very differently about future careers in this age of high frequency change. We know that the single clear path has disappeared for most people. You can no longer walk out of school or university, join a trade or profession, and pursue that career for life.
Disruption is coming, even to those niches that currently look robust. The construction trades are hungry for people right now. But over the next two decades they will go through enormous change. The skills you will require as a bricklayer, electrician, or plumber will be dramatically overhauled with the introduction of new materials, more modular construction, and co-working with robots. Law, accounting and finance still look on face value like solid professions, but they are on the verge of dramatic change.
This constant disruption, across all fields, leads to a lot of uncertainty, amongst those entering the world of work and those advising them, and those already in work as well. Because the paths that we understand, and the experiences of the previous generation, are no longer a good guide.
Future careers start with the past
I have spoken with a few people recently who are concerned about their future careers. They are still considering the question of what they want to be “when they grow up”, though they are years out of university. They look back at their careers to date and worry that it looks disjointed, or unfocused.
In each case I have asked them a few questions about what it is that they want to do. I have used the Opportunity Matrix that I put together for mentoring as a starting point. And each time I have found a clear narrative from their responses. It just doesn’t fit the expectations of a previous generation.
Range: Specialists and generalists
I’m reviewing David Epstein’s book, Range at the moment for Dialogue. In it, Epstein highlights the overwhelming focus in recent years on early specialism in education. Expanding from examples in sport, he shows how we have come to believe that the route to success is resolute and repeated focus on a single discipline. He also shows how this is completely wrong.
Instead, the best route to success, particularly in a “wicked world” of novel and complex problems, is diversity of experience and learning. The people concerned about their varied work history have actually been doing the best possible thing to build success.
The challenge is just the story they tell about it.
People take different jobs for different reasons. They have expectations going into them that may not be met. And they take things out of them that they may not expect. But in every case they learn and develop. Their own story becomes a little clearer.
In my conversations with people about their future careers, I look for the intersection between their passion, their talent, and their experience. Where these things collide, and where there is a clear opportunity to find success, you can usually find their future path.
Once you do this, and then look back at their career history, you can usually find a pretty compelling narrative. However disjointed they looked when compared to a traditional career path, each step contributes something to the new direction. Sometimes, it is a piece of positive learning, a passion or a new skill. Sometimes, it is a negative: a place they no longer want to explore. But it always seems to come together.