Redesigning the whole idea of careers? Yes, and it’s likely to happen soon

It’s taken long enough, nearly 20 years. The entire global employment system has changed completely. Now somebody is finally talking about doing renovations on career models. If you get the impression that these renovations are more like a makeover, you’re not alone.There’s a distinctly cosmetic flavour to the suggestions for improvements.

It’s a pretty sad picture. Some of the suggestions include starting from primary school, coaching for employment purposes, and farcically enough, some even suggest doing something about work experience. Anyone in the employment industry could tell them that these problems are the problems of 1990, not 2014.

Generation Y is now hitting the wall. This is a job market which won’t employ younger people, older people, or anyone else if it can help it. Costs are killing jobs and careers on a routine basis.

The only good news is that at least some employers seem to have woken up to the problems. They are now talking about “employability” of school leavers. They want to see better structured work experience, dovetailing into the needs of the employment market.

This may seem a bit disingenuous in an environment where job applicants are actually being given the option to take up acting lessons to do better at interviews. It seems even more disingenuous when you realize that most employers fill jobs outside the direct job advertisement market anyway.

It’s a matter of opinion whether anybody in the job market actually understands the mechanics of modern careers. Policymakers obviously don’t. The typical career path for Generation Y is going to be sporadic employment, part-time, contract, and other work.

In terms of the traditional requirements for bullet-proof CVs, Generation Y will have career paths full of holes. It is already the case that younger workers are trying desperately to “repair” their CVs simply to make them look better in a very highly competitive job market.

Unless something is done to create a far more efficient job market, talk about career moves is going to be very much like going to a casino. You might win, you might lose, and you can expect to spend a lot of time trying to get anywhere.

The simple fact is that the expectations of employers are becoming progressively more unrealistic. Even college degrees have shelf lives these days, and a degree in IT has a shelf life of no more than about five years. If it wasn’t for IT outsourcing, which has created real business entry points for qualified people, IT careers would be based on guesswork.

Administrative jobs are equally threatened. The simple fact is that the old administrative jobs are rapidly being replaced by better technology, leaving a large number of people with qualifications but no jobs to go to.

A further consideration is that professional jobs are often now outsourced. It’s easier for a professional work at home than to create the sort of demand for related services which supported many traditional administrative jobs in the past.

The rise of freelancing is another issue. Many services which used to be day jobs are now freelance jobs, across a very wide spectrum of different types of traditional employment. The trouble is that the traditional employers generally don’t recognise the depth and value of this type of work, and also tend to discount it when assessing job applications.

The brutal truth is that traditional employers also lose business to these outsourcers. Market penetration by New Economy businesses, which have completely different employment structures, is huge. Outdated costing methods, ridiculous, cost-ineffective job design, and inefficient, misunderstood multitasking environments have simply made the problems worse.

Cost is also another real stumbling block. As long as employers insist on doing business in incredibly expensive, high maintenance, commercial environments, the cost of employment will be equally high. This is a major disincentive for hiring, and adds another stumbling block to career prospects.

(There is a particularly easy way to measure real costs. If you compare the costs of hiring a college graduate 10 years ago to the costs which apply today, you will see that you are actually only able to hire fewer graduates. While it is true that the graduates do deliver additional value in the modern workplace, “outlay” is a word no employer can afford to ignore.)

The Flintstones version of the employment market is well and truly on the way to the scrapheap. So is the prehistoric career model scenario. If policymakers, employers, and economists are serious about addressing these issues, they need to deal with realities, not theories.

For example:

  • How does a normal human being get from primary school to a productive career? (Without using a Ouija board, that is.)
  • What are the cost realities of getting the skills employers need?
  • How many people can actually afford to get the kind of qualifications that the employment market needs?
  • What are the actual skills requirements of the job market? (This really is a moving target, affected very much by costs, new technologies, and market forces.)
  • How are people supposed to have careers, when their highly erratic employment track is simply not going to support career development?

The answer, ironically if grimly, is simple.

  • Reduce the costs of qualifications, and you’ll have all the skills you need.
  • Reduce the cost of doing business, and you can afford to hire all the people you need.
  • Design jobs for better value delivery, and you will get more value out of your employees.
  • Adopt more flexible employment models, including working from home, and thereby reducing workplace costs, and you’ll make more money.

A lower cost environment is much more helpful to career prospects than the current top dollar, high maintenance model which is simply not working at all. This may seem like common sense, but these solutions have been regularly rejected by the employment market. The market is keeping its own costs high, and wondering what’s going wrong.

When Generation Z comes along in about 10 years, traditional jobs may no longer exist. At the current rate, simply putting someone in a workstation will become prohibitively expensive. The Generation Z job market may be a “warehousing” exercise, using a pool of multi skilled people across a much wider range of operations.

Generation Z won’t have one job, but several at the same time. They won’t even have a single career track; they’re quite likely to need multiple working career options, linked directly to a very different employment market.

The sooner employers acknowledge the fact that the old models have become too expensive, too inefficient, and too impractical, the better.