Building Career Adaptability

Ideas, PhD

Last week I attended a conference run by the Centre for Workplace Leadership exploring the Many Futures of Work. One session focused on the value of good jobs and the importance of ensuring these are created into the future. Whilst the researcher noted there isn’t universal agreement on what a “good job” is (as different people value different things), certain characteristics were heavily focused on as being necessary.

In particular, long term, permanent employment with the one company was heavily promoted as the ideal model. Anything less than this was considered to be too “risky”, resulting in additional stress for the employee.

The first thing that sprang to mind for me was how incredibly risky it would be to have your entire income dependent on the one company.

The reality is that companies come and go all the time, sometimes entire industries disappear as new technology is developed or it becomes advantageous to shift offshore. And just because a company has been around for 100 years doesn’t mean there’s any guarantee that it will make it to the end of the month. The idea of one permanent job with one company seems outdated in the modern economy. I asked whether the research factored in the risks inherent in being dependent on the one company. Short answer, no.

It has been over a decade since I was in a permanent employment arrangement, but with multiple businesses and clients in the mix, I’ve always had plenty of work to keep me busy. I’m concurrently engaged in a range of activities across productivity, business strategy, manufacturing, technology, public policy and more. The thought of regressing back to working exclusively in the one permanent role now feels restrictive and suboptimal for developing a resilient skill base. While there were one or two conference attendees who echoed my sentiments, a good portion of the dialogue around work flexibility was negative. However I’m looking forward to continuing this dialogue at the Future of Work: People Place Technology 2016 Conference where I imagine there will be a distinctly different tone.

From my experience, building a varied, dynamic and agile career represents the best possible strategy for ensuring steady income over the long term.

I don’t think there is any amount of money that could tempt me to want to take a full time, permanent, long term role with one company in one industry. That seems far too risky for me. I would rather the true security that comes from maximising adaptability, rather than the illusion of security that comes with “permanent” employment.

In my PhD research I’m taking this concept of individual adaptability one step further and looking at cross-sector professionals who concurrently undertake roles across business, the research sector and government. I’m still in the early stages of this work, but I would be very interested in connecting with professionals who have successfully built a cross-sector career.