What did you want to be when you grew up? We’ve always encouraged our children to follow their dreams, but over time, generations of future astronauts and presidents mature and pursue jobs more in line with the passions they develop over the years. This is, of course, a symptom of the transition into adulthood, but even then, children are encouraged to choose a profession at a relatively young age.
And then, they get out in the job market. They’re grown up now, and the time to follow their dreams has come. However, doing so is often costly and requires years of schooling. If a college graduate discovers that the profession that they’ve trained for isn’t what they had expected, it can be challenging to redefine career goals. I wrote a bit about changing industries, but beyond that, I believe that the job market has changed significantly over the past decade. This isn’t a bad thing at all; in fact, it makes it easier for newcomers to the job market to try out their skills and gain a better sense of what they want out of a career.
In the modern job market, skills reign over specific job titles. Freelance and part time jobs are becoming more and more commonplace, leading to individuals possessing a toolbox of skills gleaned through a variety of work. Modern day college majors often reflect this, with business administration a popular option for students looking to explore multiple aspects of running a business, including leadership, finance, and marketing.
These shifts had led to professionals defining their career goals based on tasks they wish to do on the job rather than specific titles. For instance, a graduate interested in joining a tech startup may define their ideal job as one that allows them to “work creatively in a technology-focused company.” This change in language allows uncertain students to get a sense of what they’re looking for in a job without explicitly defining their occupation.
With a new job market comes a change in how workers evolve throughout their career. Now, people are encouraged to continually pick up new skills and build out their portfolios through smaller, part-time projects. That’s not to say that there’s no place for individuals in traditional 9-5 options; these jobs will not be going away anytime soon. All it means is that workers no longer need to define a career path as stringently as in the past.
Even for individuals that work 9-5 jobs, it’s becoming more and more common for workers to take on multiple positions within a single company, or take additional freelance jobs on the side. It’s often called the gig economy—and with small opportunities for companies such as Uber, Fiverr, and Taskrabbit, it has become far easier to work as much or little as one needs to.
Internally, some companies have chosen to embrace this mindset, offering projects for motivated individuals to work on and experiment with new ideas and roles. Technology conglomerate Cisco now allows for their workers to choose projects based on their existing skills as well as skills that they wish to develop. These “upward mobility platforms” empower employees to improve their knowledge base and make an impact, all while diversifying their work portfolio and discouraging them from jumping ship to other companies.
Still, the disadvantage of the gig economy is that there are fewer opportunities for growth, and workers may be stuck with around the same pay rate if they cannot adapt well enough. The 9-5 job may often be mocked for its tedium, but staying with a single company offers opportunities for pay raises and promotions, both things taken out of the equation for dedicated freelancers. This is why Cisco’s approach is perhaps ahead of its time, as it takes the stability of a traditional job and layers on more work for motivated individuals looking to learn and accelerate their career path.
Expect nontraditional jobs to continue to grow. Individuals may very well now find that, when asked what they do, they have no clear answer—an interesting shift away from the astronaut dreams of youth.