I left school in 1980 and got a job in a bank. I didn’t mean to really; it just happened and it wasn’t my fault. Well, I had to apply, obviously, and seem to remember having a chat with the school careers officer who suggested banking was a good idea, but to be honest I don’t think I gave it any more thought than that. What seemed to be important is that I got a job – any job – and that was that. I also seem to remember (it has got lost in the mists of time, rather) the job interview going something like this:
Them: Why do you want this job?
Me: Well it sounded interesting and I am good with numbers. I think. At least, not rubbish.
Them: Congratulations. You’re in. You’ll retire when you’re 65.
I am sure it wasn’t really like that, but it wasn’t far off. I got an interview at the first time of trying, too, and without really trying at all.
I was lucky to be leaving school in that period. It doesn’t work like that now, and it could be argued that it shouldn’t. I got a job that I was not really interested in, wasn’t very good at and it was a rather unfulfilling period of my life – and they got someone who was average at best.
Wind forward another month, and I found myself sitting in front of the local HR Director for my introductory briefing to the world according to VeryBig Bank. “Congratulations”, he said, “Welcome to the family that is VeryBig Bank” (Names have been changed to protect the guilty). “I am here to tell you that you will never have to think about your career again. We will do it for you and it is all mapped out like a spread sheet”. Actually, spread sheets didn’t really exist then but you get the picture.
My point is that this was sold as a positive thing. In return for undivided loyalty (at that time you were not even allowed a bank account anywhere else) and not being too bad at your job, you got job security and a career path decided for you. You didn’t have to think or make hard decisions about which path to follow.
Wind forward another 30 years and things couldn’t be more different. There is no such thing as failsafe job security, it is rare to get a job at the first time of trying and even rarer to be offered a job if you haven’t done your homework.
Perhaps the major change though is in who is responsible. I was made to feel like I was a passive recipient of my future, with no control or accountability; as long as I went through the motions, I would fulfil the destiny presented to me.
Nowadays, it is us more than ever who are responsible. We have had to replace security in our employer with security in our employability; in other words, it is up to us to build the transferable knowledge, skills and abilities to take from one employer to another as the days of sitting in one place being average are gone.
Of course, there are exceptions. But in an ever more competitive job market, with Moore’s Law of computing having an impact on workplace technology (computing power doubling every 18 months or so) and with shifting demographics (more workers from overseas and more workers not simply retiring once they hit 65) the emphasis is on us to take control, decide what we want and to be clear about what we possess as a transferable “portfolio” of skills.
So we are now in charge of our career. Which is both empowering and not a little scary.