A job for life? Not likely ...

From now on, most careers will be portable, explains Philip Schofield
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The Independent Online
Most jobs today are white-collar, knowledge-based jobs, and the proportion is rising. Machines have replaced many manual workers, and computers most routine clerical workers. On the other hand, there has been an explosive growth in jobs for specialists, especially in the service industries, while many existing jobs have become more complex and need greater intellectual skills. This is why the CBI wants 40 per cent of school leavers to enter higher education, instead of the current 30 per cent. Many jobs once open to school leavers are now almost exclusively graduate entry.

However the relationship between tomorrow's newly qualified graduates and their employers is likely to be very different from that of their predecessors - though graduate employers offer confused visions of the future. While tearing down many of the old work structures, employers are still struggling to find new ones that will be effective.

In the past, most graduates worked for an organisation. Having been recruited, most went through a training programme, typically lasting one to two years. There was a tacit understanding that if the employee was conscientious and loyal, the employer would provide job security and regular advancement up the corporate ladder. However, employers have broken this "psychological contract" in the pursuit of cost savings and flexibility.

Employers have had to cut costs and become more efficient to meet growing competition at home and overseas. According to the the Institute of Management, 58 per cent of organisations have stripped out layers of management in the past five years, and most expect further "delayering" up to the end of the century. These cuts have slashed opportunities for promotion.

Most graduates are now recruited into jobs where they must make an early contribution. Skills are more important than knowledge, because information is increasingly accessible through databases and the Internet. Many jobs are being organised in new ways. Tasks once carried out by permanent departments are being given to project teams formed at the start of a project and dissolved when it is completed. Team members are chosen on the basis of their skills in a particular job. People move from one project to another, and may work on two or more at once. Team leaders are chosen for having expertise appropriate to the project, so a leader of one team may be an ordinary member of another.

As individuals gain experience on various types of project and become more expert, they are better rewarded - but not necessarily promoted. Promotion is replaced by sideways moves. And because work units have shrunk in size, and opportunities to broaden one's experience are limited at one site, people are moved more often. Even so, there are unlikely to be enough career development opportunities in a single organisation.

Employers recognise, in theory, that having taken away job security, they must help their people to develop a portfolio of transferable skills and experience that will make them attractive to other employers when they move on. Graduates must think of portability rather than stability. A recent survey predicts that people entering today's workforce will change employer eight times during their working life, and half of these moves will be involuntary.

Moreover, employers want a flexible workforce to respond to seasonal and other changes. As a consequence, employers have started to organise workers into two main groups. The first, a fairly small core group of full-time people with expertise and skills specific to the organisation, and a second, larger, peripheral group comprising temps, self-employed "teleworkers", freelance jobbers and people on other forms of short-term contract. Many graduates will become peripheral workers.

Short-term contracts and other types of flexible working are replacing jobs for life. Bob Hard, of the Higher Education Careers Service Unit, recently told Human Resources magazine that throughout the Eighties about 14 times more graduates entered permanent jobs than went into temporary work. But by 1993, permanent jobs outnumbered temporary ones by only six to one.

Charles Handy, in a lecture last year to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Careers Research and Advisory Centre, said that 44 per cent of the available workforce in Britain was already outside the organisation and that to "have a full-time job in an organisation will soon be the minority occupation".

He told of a friend who complained that there were no jobs for people like him while his plumber complained that he had so many jobs he could not cope. He went on to advise: "Don't get a job, get a customer, because if you can do something or make something which people are prepared to pay money for, you will be confident for the rest of your life. And when you do look for a job in an organisation, you will have the best qualification that anybody has: to have made something happen for which people pay money, to be worth something to somebody else."

Tomorrow's graduates must take charge of their own careers and be prepared to build up a personal portfolio of customers and temporary employers. Most graduate careers in the future will not be a progression but an aggregation of many small jobs.

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