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The Future Of Careers

Updated: Feb 24, 2023

Professionals are realising in increasing numbers that a portfolio career is not only possible, it is preferable.

There’s a lot of discussion right now about how the world of work is changing. Lockdown accelerated this change and pushed both employers and employees to try new ways of working. Collaboration and productivity tools such as Slack, Zoom, Calendly, Asana etc. have enabled this, as have the shifting motivations of workers. LinkedIn is making it easier to find talent, and platforms such as Upwork are making it easier to find short-term work. People everywhere are questioning the value of our current educational offerings. So what does this all mean for the future of our careers?

In increasing numbers, professionals just don’t want the same things that their parents did from a career. The concept of a “career for life” has long fallen out of fashion, and these days so is having only one permanent job at a time. There is an increased desire for variety, flexibility, autonomy and multiple income streams.

Pre-lockdown, while plenty of forward thinking professionals and startups were coming to this realisation, many established companies were floundering – assuming way too much work needed to be done by in-house permanent employees. Then the pandemic hit and businesses were forced to become more agile, reducing permanent headcount while adopting virtual and remote operating models. What they discovered through this process was that getting things done through portfolio professionals was faster and more efficient, provided access to better talent from around the world, reduced fixed costs and provided greater strategic flexibility – and so the portfolio career revolution was accelerated.

Given this momentum, professionals are realising in increasing numbers that a portfolio career is not only possible, it is preferable. Portfolio careers help you earn more from clients globally, give you more flexibility and autonomy and reduce income risk through diversification.

So you may be asking yourself, what does this mean for my career? I recently discussed this with headhunter and talent director Luke Rodwell, executive career mentor Julia Poncar and hospitality recruitment specialist Lucy Warman. Below is what we concluded.

The end of the linear career

The cold hard truth is that having one permanent role with no other sources of income is becoming incredibly risky for professionals and their families. No jobs are safe any more, and if you lose your job it may take a few months with no income before you land the next one. Even worse, you might find that your skillset has become obsolete.

When a company hires you, they do so because you provide a service that they need for at least 40 hours per week, for which you are well qualified. You’re a resource, and as soon as the workload drops, is outsourced or requires a different skillset (or technology) you’re no longer needed, and you will be discarded. For older generations, this is seen as unethical, especially if you’ve given years of loyal service to that organisation. In reality this way of working created a lot of underemployed generalists, developing their skills at a slow pace and holding up progress. Paying you a high salary 365 days a year only makes sense if you are doing world class, necessary work – for which you are the perfect fit – every single day. Given rapid changes in company strategy, priorities and technologies used, this old approach is making less and less sense.

The OECD forecasts that by 2030 half of all professionals will have portfolio careers. What does this mean for how you manage your career? Put simply, you own it, from start to finish. You – not your employer – need to develop your:

  • Strategy. Keep your finger on the pulse. Work out how society and industries are changing, what skills will be in demand and which ones you could master.

  • Learning plan. Be proactive about upskilling yourself. Develop those skills, through a combination of formal training and on-the-job learning – likely funding most of your education yourself.

  • Network. Make building the size, quality and relevance of your network a daily activity.

  • Personal brand. Develop a personal story and brand, explaining your views and how you intend to make a positive difference to the world (and your potential clients). Then do your own marketing and sales to land work.

  • Intellectual property. Become a thought leader. Develop your own intellectual property – to monetise yourself at a higher rate.

Before the pandemic, portfolio careers were typically limited to certain professions (e.g. creatives) or seniority levels (e.g. ex-CEOs). Now, this path is open to anyone, including a lot of self-sufficient younger workers who are taking advantage of the booming gig economy to launch a one-person business or spin up a side hustle.

How our motivations have changed

Why people work has been changing too. Even before the pandemic, the typical amount of time a Millennial spent in a role was roughly two years, and a lot of that came down to a need for personal fulfilment. These days, workers want to enjoy their jobs, and that means less concern around packages and progression and more around the working environment and culture. This is a huge shift from previous generations, which is why it’s taken a while for employers to catch on.

Our corporate role models have shifted over the past decade or so as well. Big corporate CEOs are now seen as dinosaurs and/or villains, while the heroes of industry are startup founders, entrepreneurs and thought leaders. Nowadays, if you want to hire great talent, you’re more likely to find someone who takes a job because they’re interested in starting their own business and either

1) wants to learn as much as possible to inform their startup, or 2) just wants to pay the bills while planning their startup.

Being a loyal corporate employee just isn’t on the agenda anymore.

So how do employers attract this sort of footloose talent? By offering an “academy” approach: employees provide time and service whilst employers train them in the skills they need to launch their own business. Successful employers have always known that part of their value proposition to potential new hires was the quality of career they would have after they have moved on.

The arrival of work-as-a-service

Long before the pandemic, we were already seeing full-time jobs being replaced by the gig economy in many areas with discrete tasks such as driving, delivery, cleaning, logo design, market research, training courses and more. Why hire a person full-time when you can just pay for a specific task to be done? This mindset is now moving to more complex work.

For businesses, the pandemic and lockdown were a crash course in remote collaboration and productivity improvements. Companies learned that employees don’t need to be in the office to be productive, that you don’t need to hire locally, that employees prefer flexibility and that you can shape company culture remotely. You can also hire external professionals – at short notice – to get complex work done without needing a long-term contract.

According to Upwork’s 2020 Future of Work report, 47% of hiring managers are now more likely to hire independent workers as a result of COVID-19, and 73% are maintaining or increasing the amount of work they already contract out. In other words, there’s more opportunity than ever before for people to launch their portfolio careers.

A more globalised workforce creates opportunities and threats

Today, the workplace is far more virtual than it’s ever been, and that’s allowed for new work opportunities on a global scale. You no longer have to live within a 60-minute commute from the office; you just have to have a strong internet connection and a productive workspace.

You can live in London and take a job in Berlin, or vice versa. Or maybe move to a Greek island. That opens up a whole new world of possibilities and threats. The global opportunities are endless. If you can become world class at something and build your personal brand, then you can work for clients all over the world and charge a fortune. On the other hand, if you have mediocre skills and fail to differentiate yourself, you may get undercut by cheaper labour from lower income countries. This new world of work is set to get highly competitive.

From the employer perspective, working with portfolio professionals offers access to a huge new talent pool. Why only use talent that lives in San Francisco and needs to earn $250k per year to survive? Now you can hire talent from anywhere in the world.

Finding your purpose

Portfolio careers allow you to combine what you’re passionate about with what you can get paid to do. Can you find the right combination of doing what you are good at, what you love, what the world needs and what you can get paid for? We find the following framework – created by entrepreneur Marc Winn who was inspired by the Japanese concept of Ikigai on his quest for purpose – essential in helping portfolio professionals create focus and momentum.

Will you survive and thrive?

If the pandemic taught us anything it’s that nothing is certain. Economies change. Business models change. Careers change. What matters most is adapting and staying ahead of those changes, and finding your purpose.

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