Those that plan and manage their careers, will increasingly be able to define their jobs around their own interests and passions and build careers that enable, rather than limit their lifestyles.
The Great Recession marked the end of an era. A college degree, long viewed as the passport to a good career and comfortable lifestyle, will no longer guarantee a job. It certainly won’t ensure a job in the field for which you have prepared, much less a predictable and secure career that allows you to pursue your passions and live a lifestyle of your own choosing.
The Grim Reality
After more than four years of decline and slow growth, unemployment among recent college grads is still almost 15 percent. Another 40%, according to Northeastern University’s Center for Labor Market Studies, are underemployed or are unable to find full-time jobs or those that make use of their skills. These patterns are echoed in a 2011 study by Rutgers University’s John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development. It found that 44% of 2010 college graduates had not held a single job over the 12 months since graduation (compared with 10% from the classes of 2006 and 2007). Among those 2010 grads lucky enough to find jobs, only half landed jobs that required four-year degrees, 30% claimed that their jobs were below their skill levels and only 22% saw their positions as steps along a long-term career path.
Worse still, a study of previous recessions by Yale School of Management economist Lisa Kahn, found that those graduates unlucky enough to enter the job market during a recession not only begin at lower wages, they also find it difficult to compete with younger, more recent graduates when normal hiring patterns resume and are likely to continue to earn lower wages though much of their careers.
All this bad news is taking a terrible toll on morale. According to the previously mentioned Center for Workforce Development survey, 56% of recent college graduates now believe they will to do less well than their parents—only 17% think they will do better!
A Brighter Future?
Although it may be comforting to think that this situation will return to normal once we pull out of the slump and the recovery begins generating jobs at a more traditional pace, this is worse than wishful thinking—it is self-delusion.
The recession, as severe as it has been, has merely unmasked a number of fundamental job market-altering trends that have been in place for more than a last decade, but were disguised by the financial and homebuilding bubbles. These trends fall into four primary categories:
- Automation, in which not only factory and administrative workers, but also knowledge workers (as in routine accounting, programming, legal and even some medical jobs) are being automated;
- Globalization, where increasingly educated engineers, financial analysts and lawyers and other professionals, from a growing number of developing countries, perform jobs for as little as one-tenth the cost of a comparably educated domestic white-collar worker;
- Flexible hiring, with companies looking to reduce fixed costs by increasingly looking to part-time or contract workers as alternatives to full-time employees; and
- Unpredictable volatility, where political, economic, social, technology and market forces change so suddenly and profoundly as to make it all but impossible to anticipate, much less prepare for major dislocations or their often unanticipated consequences.
The bad news is that those who are not prepared for these trends face a lifetime of uncertainly, disrupted career plans and low earnings. Their careers, their financial security and, to an extent, their lifestyles, will be subject to the whims of the market place and the good graces of others.
The good news is that those who understand and are prepared for the job market of the future—and who plan and manage their careers effectively—have the opportunity to not only minimize these risks, but to turn them into opportunities. They will increasingly be able to define their jobs around their own interests and passions and build careers that enable, rather than limit their lifestyles.
Although most college graduates have the potential of taking charge of their own careers, those who are still in high school or those who are about to enter or are still in college, have, by far, the greatest potential. It will, however, take planning, work and commitment.
The sooner you accept these responsibilities, the greater your chance of ensuring that you will be the master, rather than the victim of your own career.