It’s time to get out of the “career lane”
As a mother of two, a college lecturer, and an investor in the future of work, I think a lot about what a vocation means in 2022. When I was growing up in the 90s in suburban Detroit, Michigan, the path to the top was grounded in technical and quantitative training, partnering with the right brands (we know you’re still wearing your college sweatshirt) and climbing the corporate ladder. As an investor in the human side of the future of work, I know that trail is dying. Daniel Markovitz argues that this relentless path to success, reserved for the elite, has increased inequality and made us miserable workaholics. It also cultivated skills and workplaces disconnected from our humanity.
The good news is that work is changing. The bad news is that our career tracks are not.
We are preparing our children for a future dictated by the past: how do we change course?
First, it’s time to face the fact that career progression isn’t linear. Platforms like Fiver, Task Rabbit, and FlexJobs help organize work in new ways. This has created a new relationship between employee and employers, resulting in a transitional economy, which thrives on a part-time, distributed, flexible and short-term workforce. Our children’s career progression will look more like a staircase of overlapping multiple winding lines than a diagonal arrow pointing up.
Let’s start by teaching our kids professional athletics. We want them to develop muscles and agility that can be translated into multiple contexts and environments. This means developing skills such as building structure from autonomy, leading through ambiguity, and creating a vocation (vs. finding a job). The school that incorporates this learning would have mandatory study abroad programs, counselors who would help students find their “why” not their “now”, they would allow students to learn from the best educators around the world and they would recognize peer learning, preparing students for the diverse and flat market they are about to enter.
Artificial intelligence and robotics-based technologies are increasingly improving in cognitive and physical tasks. So that “initial” job of my generation in a bank, law firm, or consulting firm probably won’t exist; robots will.
What my business school considered a “non-traditional career path” will become the norm.
Careers will be more like Netflix’s vast movie offerings than the limited shelves of blockbusters. But to help our students, we need to create sophisticated tools that capture skills, psychometrics, experience, and labor market analysis to help students navigate their unique career pursuits.
Hiring is also going to be very different. Manpower Group Chief Innovation Officer Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic points out in his very interesting work that data – not intuition and skill, not trust – will drive hiring decisions. Silicon Valley tech companies have shown us that data is king, and now they’re infiltrating HR departments. We are already starting to replace the static CV with a dynamic series of data-driven assessments, blind interviews and competency-based tests. In short, employers and employees can move from pedigree to competency-based hiring by leveraging all career paths and backgrounds. A Peace Corps volunteer may be the best candidate for a new hire at a venture capital firm.
Finally, the talents of the future will embrace and exploit skills that are uniquely human. This is how we differentiate ourselves and are competitive in the new market. Ironically, the undervalued skills often held by “non-traditional” talent have an edge. Creators will be at the heart of this new economy, identifying and creating new products, markets and environments for humans to thrive. Those with a high degree of empathetic intelligence (such as women and minorities who often code-switch to success) will rise in rank as the need to manage global, distributed, and diverse teams becomes essential for the highest level of leadership. And “cyborgs” – people who seamlessly integrate human capabilities with technology – will reign supreme as we navigate the integration of technology into our society.
When I look at my children, it’s tempting to put them back on track, but that would be like repeating the past that won’t serve the future. We want our children to develop their autonomy from the start, develop independent learning skills, discover various cultures and ways of thinking and immerse themselves in a second language. In short, the work revolution is coming – and it will be led by those who can truly connect with what is most human.
Blair Miller is an investor focused on the future of work and is a senior fellow at Yale’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs and lectures on “Aligning Profit and Purpose.” She holds an MBA from the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan and a BA in English Literature from the University of Virginia.