Career Development

Time for a career health check?

13 August 2013

Today’s rapidly changing knowledge economy has caused a seismic shift in career development. No longer can we passively follow pre-destined career paths. We have to become active participants – developing personal, as well as commercial skills outside our original educational sphere.

“Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood.” Helen Keller

Our career choices are often based on childhood experiences. Through growing up in Africa and South America, I wanted to become a Doctor of Tropical Medicine. However, after achieving my bachelors in Microbiology, I went on to obtain a Master’s in Education.

Today I work as a marketing manager. Next year, who knows? With a career spanning 15 years in secondary and adult education, I view a working life as a dynamic, constantly evolving journey; influenced by shifting personal events, and the constantly changing economic environment.

If, like me, you have changed careers, have teenagers that have no idea what to do with their lives, or an employee who lacks direction; you may find yourself nodding in agreement.

Career development is dynamic, whether it meanders or is a clearly defined, linear progression. It concerns the whole person, not just their role, and their concepts of self, as well as changing, external factors.

Many things will influence the path of a career. Gender, family, social class, ethnicity and cultural, as well as changes in macro level policies, environment and economy. A career integrates work as well as the impact of social, familial, technological and political aspects on an individual’s life.

Interlacing between these factors is a series of coping behaviours we adopt during our career journey. The highly regarded career psychologist, Donald Super, deeply influenced the modern day approach to career development. An early proponent of lifelong learning, his behavioural theories (where he moved away from traditional career theories, which fit traits to career and are somewhat static) resonate significantly with today’s fast moving job market.

In Super’s research into young adults he found clearly defined types of behaviour: drifting (just moving with the tides), stagnating (where there’s no internal drive or external circumstances), floundering (lacking a good method to get where we want to be), exploring (having an objective with an idea of how to achieve it), systematic (taking steps to achieve a goal), and stabilising (cementing a career).

In each of our roles in life we may be in any one of these different stages. What’s important is recognising which stage we’re in, and understanding how we can move forward to the next stage.

With the constantly changing advances in technology, even the most rigid roles demand a more diverse range of skills. Employees are not necessarily looking for purely knowledge-based skills either. Literacy is obviously still relevant, but high on the employer’s list are creativity, adaptability, flexibility and an innovative mindset. After all, as a company they have to sustain their business in the future as much as you need to sustain your career and employability. Embrace learning, it’s your friend for life.

The article above appeared on the front page of the Gulf News educational section on July 14th. Since there is no online version I thought you may like to see it here too.

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