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Employed for Life - Chapter Two Excerpt: From Ladder to Labyrinth

Employed for Life

Chapter Two Excerpt

From Ladder to Labyrinth

by Wilen,Vien,Daugenti

New Ways of Working and the Rise of the Do-It- Yourself Career

Walter was born in 1920. He received an engineering degree at age 22 and took a job with a textile firm in New England. Walter’s talent was quickly recognized, and he was soon promoted to a management position. He spent the next 43 years with the same company, moving up the ranks. His job required him to move several times over the course of his career, and he spent much of his time on the road inspecting the company’s mills, but, as his wife was a full-time homemaker, this did not present a hardship. When Walter retired at age 65, he had attained the rank of senior vice president.

Walter’s daughter, Debbie, was born in 1954. She earned a nursing degree from a hospital-based diploma program, and went to work as a staff nurse for that same hospital. After she gained more experience, she was promoted to nurse manager. In the early 1990s, Debbie noticed that more of her younger colleagues had bachelor’s degrees, and how their skills and knowledge helped them on the job. She enrolled in night school, earned a BSN, and found it so intellectually stimulating that she continued on for her master’s degree. This degree enabled her to take a less physically demanding, but higher-paying, job as a case manager in her 50s. Debbie doesn’t want to retire for at least 10 more years, but, when she does, she plans to volunteer for a nonprofit patient advocacy organization.

Debbie’s daughter, Carly, was born in 1979. She received a bachelor’s degree in journalism and became a staff reporter for a local newspaper. At that job, she discovered an interest in design and layout, earned a certificate in graphic design online, and was asked to design several special sections of the newspaper. In the early 2000s, the growth of the Internet took a heavy toll on the print news industry, and Carly lost her job when her paper went out of business. Her design portfolio, however, helped her to land a position with a small marketing and communications firm. After working there for a few years and building up a base of clients, Carly decided she wanted more flexibility over her time and the types of projects she worked on, and went into business for herself as an independent contractor. Her clients are scattered all across the country, and, as she mainly works online, she’s never met most of them face-to-face. In her spare time, Carly is teaching herself web design as a way of adding value to her business.

The Do-It-Yourself Career Path

As these vignettes illustrate, the way we conceive of the career path has changed dramatically over the past few decades. The era of the gold watch—if it ever really existed to begin with—is long over. Now, out of desire and necessity, more and more people are crafting customized careers, moving with increasing fluidity between corporate jobs, stints with small companies or nonprofits, self-employment, business ownership, part-time work, and time spent out of the workforce altogether. No longer do they feel constrained to remain within one industry for life: They may retrain or return to school, repackaging some of their skills and experiences and acquiring others, in preparation for work in affiliated or entirely new fields. Their career moves are dictated (for the most part) not by their employers but by their needs, values, and life circumstances. They may seek a new job or type of work, or ramp their workload and salary expectations up or down, due to having a child, needing to care for an elderly family member, pursuing an opportunity, wanting to learn a new skill or content area, or simply out of desire for change .

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Dr. Tracey Wilen is a prominent thought leader on the impact of technology on society, work and careers. She’s been a scholar at Stanford University and has held leadership positions at Apple, HP, Cisco, and the Apollo Group. Dr. Wilen has authored 11 books. Her new book Employed for Life , 21st Century career trends was just released.

She has appeared on CNN, Fox and CBS news, in The Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, Forbes, Los Angeles Times, and USA Today. She frequently contributes to The Huffington Post, the Examiner, and the Christian Science Monitor and is on radio shows across the US weekly as an expert guest. She is a global speaker on the impact of technology on work, careers, and women’s leadership. She was honored by the San Francisco Business Times as a 2012 Most Influential Woman in Bay Area Business., @traceywilen

Dr. Wilen is on a corporate speaking tour on the topic of 21st Century Careers and can be reached, @traceywilen or FB Dr.TraceyWilen

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