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The Path To Career Success Isn't What It Used To Be

Globally, employees are increasingly feeling the pressure of an unstable business environment. From disappearing manufacturing jobs to growing youth unemployment, employment opportunities are far and few between.
Rear view of businessman and broken ladder going up
Rear view of businessman and broken ladder going up

Globally, employees are increasingly feeling the pressure of an unstable business environment. From disappearing manufacturing jobs to growing youth unemployment, employment opportunities are far and few between.

It isn't that governments and individuals haven't tried to address the issue. From growing investment in job retraining programs on a government level to individuals actively pursuing additional educational certifications, governments and individuals have been attempting to address the lackluster employment growth.

Unfortunately, these efforts fail to take into account the changes that have occurred in the global economic landscape. The global economic foundation has been upended by a number of factors including:

(1) Automation: Like it or not, technology continues to replace the need for humans. Indeed, the latest technology revolution focused on artificial intelligence continues the trend.

(2) The Decline of Routine: The nine-to-five routine has given way to the "on-demand" economy. While "on-demand" platforms such as Uber and Amazon have made life easier for some, it has disrupted the routines of millions of employees.

(3) The Rise of Knowledge: Coupled with the decline of the nine-to-five work routine is the rise of the knowledge economy. Increasingly, work is no longer reliant on mere brawn but the ability to outthink the competition with bits and bytes.

It isn't only the global economic foundation that has also changed but the path to prosperity as well. As highlighted earlier, employees are not only having to cope with the changing nature of work but also a fractured path to prosperity as well.

A number of factors have fractured the path to prosperity including:

(1) The Education Debt Burden: While education is still the way to climb the economic ladder, the education debt is increasingly burdensome and fraught with risk. With wage stagnation and frequent employment changes, the ability of employees to carry education debt is increasingly limited. Indeed, as accreditation requirements continue to grow and employees are self-funding their skills upgrades, employees are finding their educational debt interfering with their personal enjoyment.

(2) The Structured Ladder Deficit: A clear career advancement path is no longer visible. In the Baby Boomer era, there was an unwritten contract that employees would stay with their employers over their career in exchange for career growth opportunities. Today, that unwritten contract no longer exists.

The rise of the "on-demand" economy and the frenetic pace of change has broken the structured career ladder. For many, today's career advancement is less a straight linear growth ladder and more a zig-zag fraught with increasing uncertainty and risk.

(3) The Entry Level Job Dilemma: In the past, freshly minted graduates could find employment which would "show them the ropes" of what it means to be employed. Today, though, those entry level positions are increasingly disappearing thanks to a combination of technology and business complexity.

Technology has increasingly enabled businesses to automate a number of tasks that were in the past delegated to entry level employees. From answering phones to collating documents, technology has increasingly enabled individuals to self-serve themselves on a number of basic tasks.

While technology has automated a number of tasks, it has also created a more complex business environment. The benefits that technology has provided in terms of creating more openness and transparency cannot be understated. However, with this openness and transparency, comes the need for both businesses and employees to be mindful of intangible factors such as cultural differences and communication dissonance.

These intangible factors increasingly require a heightened awareness of the overall business environment that is not necessarily provided solely through education but through experience. As such, businesses are increasingly looking for more seasoned employees with both the education and the experience to effectively navigate this challenging business environmen,t thus creating barriers for those trying to get their foot in the door.

(4) The Job Diversity & Mobility Problem: Employees are being squeezed from both sides when it comes to the demands being placed on them. These pressures include:

a. Self Responsibility: Employees are being squeezed by the challenging business environment that is not only demanding they lead and produce results, regardless of their level and responsibility, but also that they constantly be upgrading their skills as new technologies and developments occur.

b. Technology Is Making Humans Obsolete: Employees are being squeezed by the fact that technology is increasingly creeping up the employment food chain and making humans obsolete. With the rapid development of artificial intelligence and machine-to-machine learning, technology may soon be replacing humans at more challenging tasks such as driving.

How are these two pressures affecting job diversity and mobility for employees? Employees who happen to be in dying industries or professions and do not have the opportunities to adjust are increasingly finding their employment paths constrained through no fault of their own.

In many respects, employees who are in dying industries are in a death spiral. Trapped in shrinking industries and finding that their skills and experience obsolete, employees have not been given any alternative path to reposition themselves on the career ladder.

Make no mistake. The pace at which the global economy moves, no industry is safe. Indeed, Silicon Valley is not immune. The speed of this transition has caught many businesses and their employees off guard and scrambling to adapt to the new reality foisted upon them.

If the path is broken, what are we to do to fix it? There are no clear and easy solutions. There never were.

Indeed, the Band-Aid solutions that are being proffered merely move the chairs on board a sinking Titanic. Today's supposed fixes are not addressing the fundamental changes that need to occur in the system to rebuild the broken career path.

What needs to occur is a coherent debate concerning what structural changes need to occur to not only fix the broken career ladder, but to ensure more people have an opportunity to succeed on it.

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