Are you ready for a 21st century career? Why most companies are not and how to take your fate into your own hands

Earlier this year ago, the leading consulting firm Deloitte published their 2018 Global Human Capital Trends on the topic of the rise of the social enterprise. ‘Social enterprise’ is shorthand for two tendencies. The first is the development of organizations away from hierarchical, stable systems to more flexible, organic and team-oriented structures. The second is related to the intensity of interactions that organizations entertain with society.
It seems that organizations are becoming increasingly aware of their role in the larger community, resulting in increasingly permeable boundaries. 

Changing organisations impact career paths

Based on this fundamental assessment, Deloitte is deducing some trends linked to social enterprises, one of which one of which–Trend 3, “From Careers to Experiences”— accounts for changing career patterns. Indeed, the 21st-century career continues a trend that began with industrialization and has resulted in an increasing dissolution of social and geographic structures and boundaries. Technological progress has given an entirely new dimension to this trend—in particular regarding access to information. Expert careers are easily accessible; management loses its know-how advantage and needs a different form of legitimization for creating a hierarchy. Deloitte even deconstructs the social norm of a “career” as a long, coherent, upward movement by titling this section “From Careers to Experiences. ” The trend is already well-recognized – 84% of the surveyed managers find it important to offer solutions to changing career path. 

Most companies still fail to create viable non-hierarchical career paths

For individuals, dissolving hierarchies mean that opportunities multiply. With increased freedom grows the individual responsibility to shape a career path that gives purpose and meaning to one’s life, as dissatisfaction with one’s own career cannot be projected outward onto authority figures. Living up to this responsibility is a new skill for many people to acquire—and there is a supply gap in training. In 2018, 73% of employees surveyed by Deloitte stated that their company is insufficiently preparing them to steer their own career.

Despite paying lip service to diverse career models, most companies are still orienting their career programs towards hierarchical and organizational structures—thereby ignoring employees’ needs. It is quite a paradox that organizations tend to ignore even their own stated needs. When asked what kind of employees they need in the future, the vast majority of organizations opt for interdisciplinary profiles – employees that blend technical know-how with an understanding of design, and also display fundamentally human characteristics, like problem-solving skills and empathy. These skills have traditionally been in conflict with hierarchical structures and career paths that have prioritized predictability and order. 

What can you do about it?

There are no ready answers yet from any industry. And there might not be any. Ultimately, the unearthing of your very own individual potential, passions, interests, and life goals remains a very individual process that cannot be solved on an organizational level. It requires deep, personal work.

Looking at these trends, I expect that the responsibility for the definition of a career path will shift from the organization to the individual. If you want to maintain a sense of control over your career, you’ll have to spend some time thinking about yourself. You will need to develop clarity on the career experiences that improve and complete your skills and bring you joy.

Do your homework, it’s worthwhile

In my work as a career coach, I have come to understand that a statement of career purpose is of tremendous value. Once you are clear on what your purpose is—defined as the intersection of your skills, interests and personality— you’ll have a guiding principle around which to organize your career. 

For most people, it is a worthwhile, albeit difficult, journey. Most challenging are the blind spots we all have when it comes to ourselves. In the best of all worlds, you might have a trusted friend, advisor, or mentor who can help guide you. In the absence of such, you might think about hiring a coach to get structure and guidance.

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