Why The “Career Ladder” Is No Longer Relevant

Young Australians are in a tricky position: for those who’ve invested a few years and tens of thousands of dollars into a university education, they’ve emerged into the working market only to find that the jobs they were training for no longer exist. Those in the workforce (whether or not they’ve got a degree in hand) are finding themselves constantly tweaking their skills in order to remain competitive. Baby boomers might have carved out a job for life, but Gen Y is looking for jobs for now.

If you’re sitting around wondering it is that you’re meant to do with your life, perhaps you can take heart from this fact: a 15 year old today will probably have up to 17 jobs in five different industries. What you do for the next five years won’t necessarily be what you do for the following five years. Career ladder? More like a jungle gym.

It’s this emerging picture of a constantly shifting job market that led the Foundation for Young Australians and Melbourne Conversations to ask what exactly work looks like for young people today – culminating in the Melbourne Knowledge Week event “What Do Grown-Ups Do All Day?” to break down the nitty-gritty of today’s careers.

Competing with automation

We live in the year of 2017, two years after Marty McFly jumped on a hoverboard and blew the 80s away. And while we don’t have hoverboards yet (don’t get me started), we are moving towards automation in another way. In the workforce.

The CEO of the FYA, Jan Owen, says that while we’re not totally sure what the future jobs will look like, “Number one is obviously this big story about automation.”

“Many of the jobs of the past are going to be automated and are being automated as we speak, but we’re not 100% sure yet what the future jobs will be. New jobs will evolve but there’ll be this gap where there’s a lot of people that are having to rethink what they’re doing and probably up skill or re-skill to get new jobs.”

It’s predicted that 40% of today’s jobs will be automated by 2050. As Jan says, “that’s big.”

The problem with portfolio careers

All this upheaval isn’t easy. As we transition from old ways of working to new, there are bound to be difficulties: ‘portfolio careers’ are often the result of periods of unemployment.

Jan explains, “We’ve already got a very casualised labour force. There’s 650,000 young people in Australia who are un- or under-employed. Which means they’ve got a degree or two but they’re not employed in that field that they got their degree.”

“That’s a real issue in this flexible workforce, people are trying to put a portfolio together of different things that they’re doing, but… it’s certainly not that smooth yet.”

If there are no “jobs for life” anymore, you don’t need to worry too much about finding a single purpose in life. The downside, of course, is figuring out what to do for now.

But as Jan says, “The upside of that is that instead of one ladder, one long ladder in your career, it’s more like a jungle gym. You get to have a lot more choice if you’ve got the skills and capabilities that make you much more adaptable and agile. ”

Be your own careers advisor

Remember in high school when you’d have “careers” sessions, fill out a questionnaire about your personality and learn you’d be suited to being a gardener or national parks ranger? Well, the changing nature of work means those sessions aren’t so helpful anymore (if they ever were).

Figuring out a career path is now a skill in and of itself. Jan says “there’s another new skill set alongside those enterprising skills, which is what we call career navigation or career management.” Part of the skill set is managing disparate work environments, handling the finances of uncertain work, and knowing how to explain your career journey in a CV or cover letter.

The take-home message? Your career is going to be an unpredictable journey, and you’d better get over your fear of robots.