What Does Career Really Mean in the 21st Century – Birds on the Blog

What Does Career Really Mean in the 21st Century

I believe it is vital that we reappraise the meaning of Career.

Our beliefs around career become an internal benchmark that we use to judge ourselves and make comparisons with those around us.  It shapes our actions, decisions and can have lifelong implications.

This belief is shaped by our education, family and friends, their views, thoughts, and ideas, as well as external societal messages. One comment at school or by a prominent individual in our life can have a long-lasting impact on the decisions we take and what we feel a career should be! 

How the definition of Career has changed

There are many definitions of Career.

One definition relating to work in 1803 is general and unspecific,  “the course of one’s public or professional life”.

In 1968, it was argued that ‘in contemporary industrial society only a minority of the workforce participates in careers” [1].  This narrow perspective still seems to permeate education, the workplace and society, that a career is for some and not for others.

Current top line dictionary definitions also include:

  • An occupation or profession, especially one requiring special training, followed as one’s lifework.
  • A career is the job or profession that someone does for a long period of their life.

But the world we live in today is far removed from the 1960s and, in some ways since the Pandemic, the 2010s, where individuals often change specialisms and professions during their working life.

I believe that a more recent definition by the Career Development Institute is far more relevant to today and those entering the workforce:

“A career refers primarily to the sequence and variety of work roles, paid or unpaid, that individuals undertake throughout their lives; but it is also the construct which enables individuals to make sense of valued work opportunities and how their work roles relate to their wider life roles”.

 The world of work in the 21st century

The world of work today would be unrecognisable to previous generations.

When I started work, the most common forms of communication were the telephone and the post, with some use of fax machines

Employees often stayed with one or two employers throughout their working life.  Employers were far more paternalistic and rewarded long service, and celebrated individuals who achieved long service milestones.

Today there are limited opportunities to step up in a hierarchy, the so-called career ladder.  Organisational structures are flatter and career paths are less obvious, or harder to navigate. Real careers often include horizontal and diagonal moves that have been referred to as “lattice careers”.

The pace of technological change means that certain roles are disappearing, whilst new roles and skill requirements are emerging, and this is likely to accelerate.

In an ever-changing world, organisations are constantly adapting, transforming, divesting or merging.

Many careers now include periods of self-employment, through choice or necessity.  Solo self-employment has accounted for 38% of all employment since the Financial Crisis (Institute of Fiscal Studies).

Fewer and fewer are now living a three-stage ie, education, then work, followed by retirement.  Whereas…

“A multi-stage life with new milestones and turning points creates numerous sequencing possibilities, and the way these are sequenced will no longer be determined by the logic of a three-stage life.  Instead, it will be shaped by individual preferences and circumstances” (“The 100 Year Life, Living and Working in an Age of Longevity” by Lynda Gratton & Andrew Scott).

Final Thought

Don’t let a fixed view of a career limit the possibilities that lie ahead or the chance to refresh, reframe and re-energise your career so that it works for you.

If you are questioning where you are in your career? Then book a FREE CAREER CHAT today . A confidential, safe, non-judgmental space where you can be totally honest and be heard.

Tina Neve – Human Decisions

About the Author Tina Neve

Throughout my career I have supported women seeking to make a change in their working lives. I have worked with individuals within a range of industry sectors, including FTSE 100 organisations, and understand how culture, organisation change and transformation can impact individuals, and how events in our personal lives affect our perspective on our work and careers. I understand work is an important part of who we are and when we are not fulfilled in what we do, don’t have enough flexibility, are not appreciated or are feeling stuck it can have a significant effect on the rest of our lives and those around us. Now that retirement for many women is likely to be 67+, it is crucial that we develop careers that are rewarding and relevant, whatever our stage of life. My approach is open, engaging and holistic, providing a trusting space to focus on you in a world full of time pressures and distractions. Using thought provoking questions and appropriate tools I will help you reconnect with your true motivations and values. Through a tailored approach I will support you to translate your hopes and aims into clear goals and actions that will enable you to achieve a fulfilling work life. Career coaching is not always easy requiring commitment and collaboration but working together the results can be truly transformational. I am a licensed Career Coach (Career Counselling Services accredited by the Association of Coaching), Associate Member of the Association of Coaching, Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and abide by a global code of ethics.