The Julian calendar, adopted in 45BC, introduced January 1 as the first day of the year – and January was named after the Roman god Janus, the god of beginnings and endings. Janus was represented with two faces: one looked to the future, the other to the past. On the last day of the year, Romans confided to Janus the goals and aspirations they had set for the year ahead.
" Setting career goals and workplace challenges just once a year may no longer be sufficient."
Leo D'Angelo Fisher, Freelance journalist
The New Year’s resolution has stood the test of time…until now. True, when it comes to lifestyle changes such as losing weight or giving up smoking, or pursuing creative aspirations such as becoming a stand-up comic or writing the Great Australian Haiku, the beginning of the year remains a reasonable time to gird your loins. But setting career goals and workplace challenges just once a year may no longer be sufficient.
We find ourselves at the beginning of an era which has never experienced such rapid and transformative developments in technology, consumer behaviour, workplace practices and organisational structures.
In the age of the digital disruptor there are no sacred cows, or Roman gods. Everything is up for grabs: business models, the nature of work and careers, and concepts of customer service, or ‘customer experience’ as the marketing cognoscenti insist.
With things moving so quickly, a single set of resolutions made at the beginning of the year are going to be superseded before you even have time to break them.
Futurists have been telling us for some time the notion of a single career for life is well on the way to being an anachronism – if it isn’t already.
Society and its workplaces are changing so quickly, profoundly and unpredictably it simply doesn’t make sense to assume career stability in this maelstrom of change.
As Swiss futurist Gerd Leonhard notes: “The future is more unknowable and yet much closer than it’s ever been in human history. Humanity will change more in the next 20 years than in the previous 300 years.”
With the new century the first soundings about the changing careers landscape took place, including the hazy claim still in circulation that people entering the workforce will on average experience seven career changes.
In 2010, US economics professor Ann Stevens was unconvinced: "Seven careers per person sounds utterly implausible to me," she told the Wall Street Journal.
Seven years later, people can see for themselves the workplace is changing and they know intuitively they ain’t seen nothing yet.
The casualisation of the workforce is here to stay and swathes of job categories are disappearing as new and rapidly evolving occupations emerge to confound hapless careers counsellors.
A 2015 CEDA report, Australia’s future workforce?, predicted almost 40 per cent of jobs in existance today have a “moderate to high likelihood” of disappearing in the next 10 to 15 years due to technological advancements.
Working lives are going to be a lot more fluid. A report from the Foundation for Young Australians notes: "Instead of training for a particular occupation and working in that area for life, some studies have estimated Australians will make 17 changes in employers across five different careers."
Whether it’s five careers or seven careers, the drift is clear: your working life is going to require more active management and planning than ever before.
Which is why one set of annual work-related resolutions just isn’t enough. January might remain an ideal time to set over-arching work and career goals, but quarterly, even monthly, resolution updates should become the new norm.
Here are five resolutions to kick off 2017.
It’s fun to speculate on what the hot new jobs of the future will be, but it’s also pointless. As the US-based Institute for the Future observes, “Many studies have tried to predict specific job categories and labour requirements… however, it has been shown such predictions are difficult and many of the past predictions have been proven wrong.”
“Rather than focusing on future jobs, [it is more relevant to consider] future work skills – proficiencies and abilities required across different jobs and work settings.”
Based on your own experience, reading, research and networking, prepare a list of future work skills you need to master. The list should be reviewed throughout the year, and every year.
You should also have a plan to develop the skills you have identified, ideally a plan that has the support of your employer.
As working life becomes more complex and diverse, you will need to take greater personal responsibility for reaching your career potential. You also need to be bold in recruiting partners along your career journey.
Your current employer may be willing to second you to different parts of the organisation – or even other organisations – to work on projects and activities that will broaden your skill base and workplace experience. When joining a new employer, ask what support they are prepared to offer towards your skills development plan.
In its Global Human Capital Trends 2015 report, Deloitte offers this excellent advice:
“Work with business partners, universities, non-governmental organisations and other third-party organisations to create a range of new leadership experiences, including pro bono and community service projects.”
Consult your employer about their preparedness to sponsor programs and courses to develop your skills, but be prepared to go it alone if they decline.
According to consulting firm Accenture, 80 per cent of Australian employees expect digital technology to change the way they work and 60 per cent are “proactively” learning new digital tools and technical skills.
Most of us have paid lip service to the mantra of “lifelong learning”, with varying degrees of resolve and at best a string of dubious courses and seminars to show for it.
The rhetoric of lifelong learning has caught up with the changing nature of work and requires a much more diligent and deliberate approach. London Business School dons Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott, who co-authored the book ‘The 100 Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity’, recently explained in the Harvard Business Review:
“It is impossible that a single shot of education, administered in childhood and early adulthood, will be able to support a sustained, 60-year career.”
“If you factor in the projected rates of technological change, either your skills will become redundant, or your industry obsolete. That means that everyone will have at some point in their life have to make a number of major reinvestments in their skills.”
There are two ways to join the “liquid workforce” – hop on a time machine to the 1980s, or embrace what Accenture calls “the ideal workforce model for the digital economy”. This is a workforce that comprises a “fluid, blended and agile portfolio of skillsets”.
In this scenario, teams will increasingly comprise partners, contractors and freelancers. According to Accenture, 84 per cent of Australian executives expect the workforce of the future will be structured more around transient project-based roles than continuous job functions.
Executives expect internal permanent positions to make up just 51 per cent of their workforce within three years.
It’s time to think about what this trend means for your working life. Take steps to develop and nurture the workplace experience, attitudes and skills that prepare you for the liquid workforce of the future.
It’s odd when futurists are asked to ponder which occupations are going to be the most in demand, their own never features. Perhaps they don’t want to encourage any unnecessary competition.
But in such times of unprecedented change, everyone needs to become a futurist of sorts if they are to anticipate the trends that will influence their working lives.
Silicon Valley futurist David Evans offers some useful tips on the futurist’s art in his article ‘Predicting the future for a living taught me we have to look backwards to look forward’, including the below observation.
“I often get asked how I predict the future. Let’s be clear: predicting the future is impossible.”
“In fact, being a futurist is less about predicting the future and more about understanding where the world is now and where it will be tomorrow.”
That’s the kind of perspective that can make the difference between having a job and a building a career. Or seven.
Leo D'Angelo Fisher specialises in the practice and malpractice of management. In more than three decades as a business journalist he has worked for BRW, The Australian Financial Review and a range of other business magazines in Australia and Hong Kong. His sometimes acerbic observations of management and its fads has brought him a wide following. He blogs at leodangelofisher.com.
The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.