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There is no such thing as a permanent job

Ben Chatfield, CEO and co-founder at Tempo

School leavers have been told for decades that they can expect a “job for life” – those days are long gone. It’s only recently, however, that a vision of what the future of work will actually look like has emerged. The gig-economy has paved the way for a different system of employment. This level of flexibility is already influencing career decisions and job offers, but we’re still teetering on the precipice of a workplace revolution.

In many respects, it is the workers who seem more attuned to the realities of this transformation. They are increasingly choosing portfolio careers instead of full-time work with a single employer. Employees welcome the benefits it brings, both in terms of work-life balance and progression.

Employers, however, have been slow to respond and shift their working practices. In a recent piece of research, the EIU found that talent management still doesn’t feature in the top three concerns of UK businesses - in spite of the data pointing to serious deficiencies in many skills. In reality, employers have a huge amount to gain from employing a more flexible workforce with rounded experience.

So why are they are not reacting? Do businesses believe that flexible working and portfolio careers are only relevant to low-skilled workers? If so, they are making a major mistake: not only does research show that education levels for portfolio workers are the same as those of the general population, but it ignores how priorities of millennials and Gen Z have changed.

Whereas older workers are motivated mainly by money, millennials crave control over their careers. Indeed according to our research, over a third (37%) will decline a job if flexible working wasn’t offered. They increasingly want to learn, be given responsibility, and have a range of different and tangible experiences. They prefer flexible working and prioritise work-life balance (embodied by the working from home phenomenon) rather than chasing salaries and pressure. They want to manage their career path on their own terms, rather than conforming to other people's notions of success.

Millennials are all too often portrayed as a stereotype, a generational quirk or blip before we return to the world of Gen X and the Boomers. The opposite is the case: they are the pioneers of a “new normal” that, while only just beginning to take shape, will define how subsequent generations approach their career.

This view also fails to take into account that, in large part thanks to new technologies, today’s young have opportunities that earlier generations would have seized if they too had the chance. Earlier working cohorts may well have had the same priorities as today’s young; but, these options were rarely on the table. So, what’s changed? What’s driven the shift in power?

In a word: Talent. The UK, in common with many other highly-developed, post-industrial countries, is in the grip of a seemingly-permanent skills crisis. What’s more, workers know it. They know that their skills are in demand and that this puts them in the driving seat.

Businesses are now scrambling to attract workers with relevant skills. Businesses were, on the whole, sceptical of flexible working in the past. Due to growing challenges in finding the right skills they were almost forced into adopting a more flexible approach. However, in doing so, have realised the benefits - better engagement, better productivity and better retention, so the feeling that flexibility is a good thing is now very much mutual.

Forward-looking businesses know that they need to invest in employee skills to retain talented workers, as well as to meet the challenges of a digital future. The US communications giant AT&T provides a great example: a few years ago, the company recognised that it lacked the skills to support its growing focus on the cloud. To answer this, AT&T launched a massive company-wide retraining programme for all of its 280,000 workers. As the chief executive put it at the time, “There is a need to retool yourself, and you should not expect to stop.”

This demonstrates the importance of thinking not just of portfolio careers, but portfolio skills. Whether you decide to stay with one employer for years or instead seek multiple job “experiences”, having a diverse mix of skills is critical for both the worker and the employer.

A portfolio career should be a viable option for everyone, with job security and other benefits of fixed employment included. The technology to support this is now being built so if gig-economy thinking is to fully translate to the professional world, businesses and candidates just need to be brave enough to embrace it. If they both commit, the job market will settle into a balance where workers can choose the job work they do, the careers they pursue, and the way they want to work.

Picture courtesy of Pixabay

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