We all know that the world of work has changed significantly in recent years. The days of a 50-year career with one company, a gold watch and a fond farewell are but a distant memory for most of us. The average duration of a job is decreasing, resulting in careers consisting of multiple, shorter jobs for more companies. So where is this going?
The world of work is evolving, and we’re seeing the mergence of what some people call “portfolio careers” – a succession of overlapping, flexible positions that over time provide income, job satisfaction, and (perhaps most importantly) opportunities to practice and learn new skills, which in turn prepare you for the next step in your career.
We’re starting to see some of this already. Many people are starting second jobs, consulting or other things that they can do outside their “regular job”. Mid-career scientists are thinking of ways to ease into retirement, starting to build consulting careers on the side while still employed in a traditional job. Companies are springing up that specialize in finding second jobs for those interested in doing something different in the latter part of their employment lifetime. (For example, Encore Solutions).
We are also seeing a significant increase in the use of contract, or temporary, employment at all career stages. No longer a stop-gap or short-term solution, this is becoming a permanent solution for some people. Instead of working directly for a scientific company, scientists become employees of a placement agency, which sends them out to a company for a few months, or a couple years. Fringe benefits, if available, come from the contract agency and not the scientific company. The contracts are renewable, but also easily terminated if the client company changes direction and no longer needs those skills. No expensive severance packages, they just don’t renew the contract when their term is up.
Just as the major responsibility for remaining employed has shifted from the benevolent company (who took care of you for life) to the employee (your job security is your ability to find another job), traditional benefits such as retirement planning, paid time off, and so on are also going away and will slowly become the responsibility of the employee. We’ve seen some of this already, as companies offer benefits “cafeteria style”, and employees can select which ones make sense for their situation.
This shift will be difficult for some people. Those who are used to the “security” of a permanent job, and the benefits attached to it, may not want to take responsibility for more aspects of their life. The ebb and flow of a portfolio career will also be hard for some people to get used to – planning for downtime between jobs will become a necessity, as will the ability to work harder when multiple, overlapping jobs require your attention simultaneously.
This shift in attitude – from rigid, sequential movement through full-time employment to a more fluid, overlapping, consulting, as-needed offer of services, is already starting to happen. Employers are starting to see the value in this new, flexible model, and it’s only a matter of time before employees start to as well.
This article was written by Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants. Lisa is a scientific communication consultant and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists,” published by Oxford University Press (2007).