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Noel Waite makes a case for “career insurance”, as she considers the future of work for professionals. The old career paths and expectations are gone, she says. Actively managing your own career is vital. And managers have a role too, in assisting their employees with career planning. We’re experiencing global, environmental, organisational and technical change of unbelievable rapidity. This is a time of change and rapid adjustment which can be painful for some and wonderful for others. How will you react?

Managing your own career is becoming absolutely essential as companies pay even more attention to returns to shareholders and external competitive pressures. In the 1990s, both public and private sector organisations have been downsizing and restructuring to create a rapid reduction of overheads. The massive change experienced by management and the workforce has both negative and positive effects. Change used to be natural and progressive. Now because of many factors, particularly economic, we are looking at imposed change.

The traditional model of company security, vertical career paths, promotional layers and associated rewards has given way to the new order of business. Today’s organisation is flatter, has varied career paths and doesn’t offer assumptions as to career progression, security and subsequent rewards.

The changing nature of work has resulted in a changing work environment.
The main features emerging are moves: from continuous employment to continued employability; from vertical careers to lateral careers; a single lifetime career to multiple careers; from employer-managed careers to employee self-managed careers.

In the UK, career management is certainly becoming recognised [by managers] as an integral part of raising morale, lifting productivity and assisting with succession planning. It can be a positive step for developing co-operation and acceptance of change as an opportunity rather than a threat. The days of “the company will look after me” have gone and career development programmes focus on self-development and individual action plans. The responsibility for career planning rests with the individual while the responsibility for career development support should rest with the employer. The employee has to make his or her own career and life decisions and must have ultimate control over the critical variables, whether to seek or accept new job assignments, whether to stay in the organisation and whether to take action on higher performance and personal growth.

Regardless of status and type of employment, optimal work satisfaction is only achieved by matching the unique characteristics of a person with a particular occupation. Change is not related to the economic, organisation and work environment only. People are constantly changing and factors such as age, personal circumstances and lifestyle priorities are becoming well recognised as prime influences on a person’s productivity and welfare.
I believe in the concept of lifetime occupation, career options and every individual having a fall-back position or “career insurance” — in other words an alternate career for continuation long after leaving a company [when you turn] 50 or 60. My personal view is that this life/career planning should commence as early as 20 years and continue indefinitely. I don’t believe in the word “retire”, rather “change of occupation”.

We have seen so many distressed people who may have been spared some of the trauma experienced from redundancy had they already planned their career insurance.

When operating an out placement facility for a major bank, we counselled hundreds of bank managers who had never experienced life on the employment market or having to search for an alternate job. The emotional trauma cannot be underestimated. However, many success stories have emerged as a result of self-appraisal and change of occupations.

Career development programmes focus on self-development and individual action plans.

Career development/transition programmes
Career crises are ageless in that they can strike at any time. The best way to avoid crises is to monitor personal progress and re-assess your career and skills on a regular basis.
As the supply and demand for certain sets of skills and experiences fluctuate, individuals need to be flexible with their career choices and future directions. It is accepted that students leaving secondary education today will change careers on average four to five times during their working lifetime. One vocation is unlikely to be sufficient in the workplace of the future.

Career development counsellors claim that each career has a lifecycle made up of four steps: 1. Exploration 2. Advancement 3. Maintenance 4. Decline.

A [fuller] description [might be] commencing with ambition, advancing to the plateau, then losing incentive and possibly seeking a change. These career life cycles can continue indefinitely. Career transition programs can be extremely exciting and stimulating for those who have never taken the time to thoroughly review their past and future directions. Life and career options, skills, interests, environment, job content, goal-setting and action planning are only some of the areas to be covered. Many participants experience a great change in self-concept, becoming much more focussed and able to make career decisions based on sound information.

Accept the concept that career security comes from within.
Career ownership
What are an individual’s coping mechanisms for the 2000s? The first priority would be to accept the concept that career security comes from within — not from the organisation. Creating career security means taking complete ownership and responsibility for yourself and your own career management. This takes awareness, energy, enthusiasm and confidence. The latter is only achieved by having a complete picture of self and a planned direction as to future goals and aspirations.

Personal growth is building your job market value and entails learning new skills. The changing work environments will open new avenues for development. Individuals must think creatively, keep up with current trends, investigate where the organisation is going and try to determine where the next jobs will be in say, 12 months or five years time. Determining critical needs of the company will assist you to determine your own extra training needs. Being multi-disciplined is essential for a changing environment, however the new skills must sit comfortably with you.

Your career insurance will be to develop portable skills and position yourself accordingly inside or outside the organisation.
Let us look at a typical career journey, which may [help] you think differently about self and business exploration. We may perceive ourselves in one role only and close our minds to the many facets of our skills, abilities and possible vocations. To find your potential and career options you need to cover these vital elements of career management: lifestyle priorities; employment preferences; realistic skills audit; skills versus preferences; career choices; goal-setting; balancing work/family/you; action plan — personal/career. Visibility and networking are essential elements for career positioning.

Future jobs
Do your homework. You must investigate leads as to where the jobs will be in this rapidly changing environment. Finding a mentor within the business will help, however you must do the research, you must be the investigator:

evaluate the business; seek out future options; investigate company facilities for career management; select a mentor; identify promotional opportunities; examine work practices and values.

Match your career aspirations to your knowledge of the future human resource needs of the organisation. Some senior financial executives are already opting for a portfolio career or working towards it. This can be a combination of consulting, teaching and directorships or solely directorships. This is a fast-growing new trend, particularly for women. Many professionals are aware of the need to market products and services yet have a complete resistance to the concept of self-marketing. Leaders in the 2000s will not only have high-level technical and interpersonal skills, they will ensure that the package is right. This also involves a portfolio of marketing tools such as a CV that is concise, targeted and represents a true track record of achievement.

Add breadth to your skills. [For example], finance executives should be exposed to current high technology, marketing and human resources for future general management. There is no automatic path to senior management and/or directorships. However, grasping opportunities and positioning yourself where you will be seen to do a good job will certainly help you along your way. These self-marketing strategies don’t happen by accident. They are a result of calculated preparation. They take concentration, time and targeted investigation. Once the package is right, visibility and networking are essential elements for career positioning. One of the most important aspects of networking is to remember that people generally love to be asked for advice. Move outside the comfort zone and meet interesting men and women outside your organisation and outside your present profession. Never hesitate to give of yourself — it undoubtedly brings returns which contribute to your personal growth.

Above all — don’t accept limits.
This article is an extract from a speech delivered by Noel Waite. by Noel Waite, Chairman, Waite Consulting

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