Graduate Plus: MANAGEMENT: Jacks and Jills of all trades

The world of work is being redefined as people build portfolios of care er skills, says Cathy Aitchison
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"What do you do for a living?"... "Well, how long have you got?" It is rare to find anyone who doesn't define themselves and others largely in terms of a job or role in the workplace. But what if that role is multi-faceted - if someone holds not one job but two or more?

The number of people with more than one job is rising. According to government statistics, more than 1 million people - or around one in 20 of those in work - have second jobs, an increase of about 6 per cent over the year between autumn 1993 and autumn 1994.

Amanda Hopkins works as a designer and as a researcher. She took a degree in psychology, then worked for several years in market research. Six years ago she began training in design while working in a job-share at the BBC's research department.

"How I describe myself changes depending on who I'm talking to. It's difficult when you start out, because people think of you as just one thing. I think my parents still find it difficult. They're more likely to ask me `how's the BBC' than how my design work is going. That's not because they don't want me to work as a designer, but until I've established myself they still see me as earning my money in research, and that's what counts."

It took time for her to accept her own change of direction: "At one point I was quite disappointed in myself. I thought I was quite a flibbertigibbet, flying around from one thing to another, with no connection, which is quite disturbing. Over time I've begun to see that there is a connection. It's all me, and you can see the threads of yourself that run through things."

She often applies research techniques and methods when she is approaching a new design problem.

This mixing of skills is the way that work should move in the future, believes the business and management consultant Charles Handy. In his book The Age of Unreason, he argues that the world of work needs to be redefined to take account of all its different facets, and to include parts which have traditionally been ignored. He distinguishes five different categories of work, some of which are paid for ("wage'', and "fee" work), and others which are not: work done in the home, study work and "gift" work,such as voluntary work or participation in the community.

"Portfolio" people are those who take all five categories into account, rather than defining themselves on their paid job alone. "A portfolio is a collection of different items, but a collection which has a theme to it. A work portfolio is a way of describing how the different bits of work in our life fit together to form a balanced whole," says Handy.

Many people, particularly women, still ignore or play down the unpaid parts of their portfolio, such as work with their children's school or in the home. "Women coming for career advice often have less confidence than men," says Siobhan Hamilton-Phillips, of the Vocational Guidance Association. "They don't like to praise themselves, even in CVs. That's a confidence thing: unless she is somebody who is totally secure with her own self, it's rare to see a woman selling herself well."

Mary Smith works as a relocation adviser in the Aberdeen area. Trained in hotel and institutional management, she has a wide portfolio of skills and experience gained as she moved with her husband, who works in the oil industry. In Singapore, she first ran an informal group for mothers with young children, then later worked as general manager of Expat Assist, an agency helping new expatriate families. This experience led to her job in relocation. "I can empathise with people going through the same thingthat I've gone through. It's hell - your whole life is packed up in cardboard boxes and you're having to start again."

Despite her range of experience, however, she finds it difficult to recognise the wealth of skills which she possesses, and she is not sure if she made the right decision to give up her own career. "Everywhere I've gone I've started something else, but Ican't commit myself too far forward - it's very difficult living in three or four-year slots."

It is this flexibility and willingness to adapt which is the key to survival in the current job climate, argues Tony Watts, director of the National Institute for Careers and Educational Counselling. "It's about recognising that what you are and your marketability, whether working for an organisation or freelance, is the experience you've got and the skills you've acquired which are transferable to new situations."

An important development for monitoring careers, he believes, is "Recording of Achievement and Action Planning", a method of assessment increasingly taught and used in schools.

"The basic notion is that everybody should be encouraged to review what they have learnt, what they've achieved, what their goals are, how they're going to achieve those goals and what new learning they're going to need to acquire. The whole process is about setting goals, finding out what new learning you're going to need, and constantly making decisions about where you're going," says Nick Cater, whose career as a media consultant encompasses a range of work in the information field, all on flexible, short-term contracts. "In terms of a career it does give you a lot more options, provided you're prepared to take that risk.

"I don't think, in future, you're going to have any choice - there won't be jobs. There'll be a certain amount of projects you'll pick up, and they may last for years, but there won't be the kind of jobs that existed before."

Central to Charles Handy's argument is the view that the trend away from linear careers is a positive thing. "Sooner or later, thanks to the reshaping of the organisation, we shall all be portfolio people," he says . "It is good news."