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The myth of ‘Jobs for Life’

Jayashree Prasad Jayashree Prasad |

For long, we have obsessed over the need for ‘permanent’ jobs. Some of us possibly continue to it without really decoding why. Also, where this need came from and whether it still holds water in today’s time. Perhaps it’s time to look at the source of this underlying need?

GEN X Mind-set

I am a classic Gen Xer. My growing up years involved recurring, near-daily conversations about getting into a ‘permanent’ job.  Probably with the thought that I didn’t have to worry about my future. If one were to unpack the underlying message, what it meant was that I had to:

  • Get a job that would assure me a ‘steady source of income’, through my various life stages, and preferably right up to retirement, savings and beyond
  • Have a job that would provide me with some ‘social security benefits’ such as insurance or provident fund or medical benefits
  • Get ‘Leave benefits’, perhaps for my marriage or for sickness
  • Have a sense of ‘stability’, or experience no turbulence in my job

What was driving those aspirations was possibly my own parents’ background and their eco-system. They saw large public-sector organisations, emerging private sectors which signalled growth and opportunities for educated folk.

My generation saw liberalisation and the subsequent opening up of a plethora of opportunities. BPO, IT, Telecom, Insurance and what not. We also got to see the trend of people changing jobs. People moved to jobs that fuelled their growth, for monetary aspirations, or because it challenged their thinking ability. And with it, in the early 2000s, one saw individuals beginning to go beyond the permanent job mind-set. The millennials, and some Gen Xers, began to warm up to the idea of contract jobs, especially at entry levels. The pulls were plenty, and all of them were not just rational. But in hindsight, quite prudent. It presented the opportunity of working in professional setups, attractive salaries, diverse interesting projects which catapulted one’s career trajectory.

Jobs Change 

An interesting development from the turn of this decade is the significance attached to the stability index. Stability in terms of a candidate’s employment history, by prospective employers. A decade ago when I used to recruit candidates it was difficult to sell candidates who jumped jobs every couple of years. As a hiring manager I too looked for pretty much the same thing – stability. Whereas, clients are today most open to exploring candidates with shorter tenures. As they look for diverse experience, exposure to different sectors, and openness to change.

I know of very successful CXOs who have moved jobs every 2-3 years and continue to be very much in-demand. What’s important to note is that these job changes are mostly initiated voluntarily by the individual. In their quest for opportunity, growth, challenges, exposure to new technology they have taken these punt on them. The certainty of staying in the same job has come down significantly and all this means just one thing. Increasingly, the workforce is not seeking jobs for life!

Technology Impact

Digitisation is fast-changing the business environment. It has tremendous human capital implications, especially from a skills perspective. The skills lifecycle is continuously getting shorter and the pace is only set to accelerate. In this context organisations no more need fixed skills on a sustained basis, thereby triggering a demand for skill upgradation. This situation infuses an inherent impermanence in jobs and again debunks the myth of permanent jobs.

The world of work is seeing the emergence of the ‘gig’ economy. This draws its name from each piece of work being similar to an individual ‘gig’. Essentially meaning a standalone performance, appearance, task or activity. Temporary, flexible, assignment-based work will become commonplace in the years to come and will only be centred around skill/expertise. Freelancers will drive this world of work, where an individual may hold multiple, diverse engagements with several organisations simultaneously. This interestingly reflects the mind-set of the digital generation or the Gen Z ‘technoholics’. They bring with them a career of multi-tasking ability and the capability to move seamlessly between organisations and engagements.

The only way forward, I believe for all of us, is to adopt a ‘permanent’ psychological makeup. This means to constantly engage in continuous learning and relearning, besides continuous investment in reskilling. This will help us stay relevant and employed for the role and skill for a period, than for life.

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