The Four-Year Career by Dean Cathy Sandeen


 I read an interesting article in Fast Company last month called The Four-Year Career.

The article highlights a very important trend—reduction in the average tenure one has in a job. This is probably not a temporary trend brought about by our recent economic downturn, but a practice that’s here to stay.  Further, individuals are not just changing jobs within a single industry. There’s a growing trend for people to make massive career shifts through their life time. The Fast Company article highlights a few of these paths.

Other interesting points from the article that resonated with me:

“According to recent statistics, the median number of years a U.S. worker has been in his or her current job is just 4.4, down sharply since the 1970s. This decline in average job tenure is bigger than any economic cycle, bigger than any particular industry, bigger than differences in education levels, and bigger than differences in gender.  . . .  Statistically, the shortening of the job cycle has been driven by two factors. The first is a marked decline in the “long job”–that is, the traditional 20-year capstone to a career. Simultaneously, there’s been an increase in “churning”– workers well into their thirties who have been at their current job for less than a year.”

“Shorter job tenure is associated with a new era of insecurity, volatility, and risk. It’s part of the same employment picture as the increase in part-time, freelance, and contract work; mass layoffs and buyouts; and “creative destruction” within industries. All these changes put more pressure on the individual–to provide our own health care, bridge gaps in income with savings, manage our own retirement planning, and invest in our own education to keep skills marketable and up to date.”

The Institute [for the Future], a Silicon Valley-based think tank, has been researching future work skills for a decade. [Marina Gorbis, Executive Director of the Institute] says, “It’s much harder than it used to be to predict what jobs are going to be around in 10 years.” Projections from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics can offer a false confidence. “They can say that health care is a growing sector, but exactly what the jobs are going to be, you don’t know.” In looking ahead to 2020, Gorbis’s institute identified big drivers of change such as extended longevity, robotics, and the rise of global connectivity. Then it extrapolated a list of core skills that will be needed in tomorrow’s workplace regardless of industry or position.”

Transdisciplinary skills

The article stresses the importance of being a “T-shaped person,” someone who has broad general knowledge and skills, combined with depth in a specific area.  This isn’t the first place I have encountered such a notion. Broad skills across the top of the “T” include: communication, problem solving, analytical ability, teamwork, global and multicultural awareness, and the ability to synthesize. Deep skills are narrower, more technical and industry specific.

Broad skills are more stable and applicable across jobs, industries, and time; deep knowledge and skills are critical, but the need for these has a tendency to change so the knowledge and skills become obsolete more rapidly.

Take home message

To be able to maneuver in the new environment of rapid job change and personal responsibility, people need to cultivate those broad transdisciplinary knowledge and skills—akin to a traditional liberal arts program—as well as many types of specific technical knowledge over time. They key is, one can never stop learning and growing.

Or as Margaret Mead once said “We must rid ourselves of the idea that anybody can ever finish his education…We need to set up a program into which people can come at any time in their lives and get as much education as they can take.”


One response to “The Four-Year Career by Dean Cathy Sandeen

  1. Pingback: Broad and Deep Knowledge Revisited By Dean Cathy Sandeen | InsideTrack Higher Education Blog :: InsideTrack

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s