Time to get off the ‘career track’

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As a mother of two, lecturer at a university,  and investor in the future of work I am thinking a lot about what a vocation means in 2022. When I was growing up in the 90’s in the suburbs of Detroit, Mich., the path to the top was grounded in technical and quantitative training, associating with the right brands (we know you still wear your college sweatshirt), and climbing the corporate ladder. As an investor in the human side of the future of work, I know that track is vanishing. Daniel Markovitz argues this relentless path to achievement, reserved for the elite, has increased inequality, and made us miserable workaholics. It also cultivated skills and workplaces that were disconnected from our humanness. 

The good news is that work is changing. The bad news is that our career tracks are not.

We are preparing our kids for a future dictated by the past: How can we change course?

First, it’s time to face the fact that career progression is not linear. Platforms like Fivver, Task Rabbit, and FlexJobs are allowing work to be organized in new ways. This has created a new relationship between the employee and employers, resulting in the transition economy, which thrives on a part-time, distributed, flexible, short-term workforce. Our kids’ career progression will look more like a staircase overlapping with multiple squiggly lines than a diagonal arrow pointing up.

Let’s start by teaching our kids about career athleticism. We want them to build muscles and agility that can be translated in multiple settings and environments. This means developing capabilities like building structure out of autonomy, leading through ambiguity, and creating a vocation (vs. finding a job). The school that incorporates this learning would have mandatory study abroad programs, counselors who help students find their “why” not their “now,” they would allow students to learn from the best educators around the world and they would recognize peer-led learning, preparing students for the diverse, flat marketplace they are about to enter.

Artificial intelligence and robotics-enabled technologies are getting increasingly better at cognitive and physical tasks. So that “starter” job of my generation at a bank, law firm, or consulting firm likely will not exist; robots will do it.

What my business school deemed a “nontraditional career path” is going to become the norm.

Careers are going to look more like the vast Netflix movie offerings rather than the limited blockbuster shelves. But to help our students, we have to build sophisticated tools that input skills, psychometric data, experience, and job market analysis to help students navigate their unique vocational pursuits.

Hiring is also going to look very different. The Chief Innovation Officer for Manpower Group, Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, highlights in his very interesting work that data — not intuition and competence, and not confidence — will drive hiring decisions. The Silicon Valley tech companies have shown us that data is king, and now it is infiltrating human resources departments. We are already starting to swap out the static resume for a dynamic series of data-driven assessments, blind interviews, and competency-based tests. In short, employers and employees can move from pedigree to competency-based hiring pulling from all career paths and educational backgrounds. A Peace Corps volunteer may be the best candidate for a new hire at a venture capital firm.

Finally, the talent of the future will embrace and leverage the skills that are uniquely human. This is how we differentiate and compete in the new marketplace. Ironically, undervalued skills often held by “non-traditional” talent have the head start. The creators will be central to this new economy, identifying and building new products, markets, and environments for humans to thrive. Those with high degrees of empathetic intelligence (like women and minorities who often code switch to succeed) will rise to the ranks as the need to manage global, distributed, diverse teams become critical for the highest level of leadership. And the “cyborgs” — people who seamlessly integrate human capabilities with technology — will reign as we navigate the integration of technology into our society.

As I look at my kids, it is tempting to put them on the old track, but that would be like repeating the past that will not serve the future. We want our kids to develop  autonomy early on, build the capabilities for self-directed learning, experience diverse cultures and ways of thinking, and immerse themselves in a second language. In short, the work revolution is coming — and it will be led by those who can truly connect with that which is most human.

Blair Miller is an investor focused on the future of work and is a senior fellow at Yale’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs lecturing on “Aligning Profit and Purpose.” She holds an MBA from the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and a BA in English literature from the University of Virginia.

Tags Career Pathways career transition Competence Education Educational technology future of work robotics Résumé Vocational education

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