It's no secret that employment demographics have changed. In ways both good and bad, that is. What are we supposed to do about it?
For the full post, see Ben's blog here.
The Jammed Career Escalator: Old Premises, New Realities
Centuries of immigrants risked everything to come to America with the belief that if they worked hard, they would enjoy a better life than their parents had. Since the country’s birth, each generation of Americans has generally made more money, been better educated, and enjoyed a higher standard of living than the generation that came before it. This expectation of lockstep increases in prosperity had become part of the American Dream.
For the last sixty or so years, the job market for educated workers worked like an escalator. After graduating from college, you landed an entry-level job at the bottom of the escalator at an IBM or a GE or a Goldman Sachs. There you were groomed and mentored, receiving training and professional development from your employer. As you gained experience, you were whisked up the organizational hierarchy, clearing room for the ambitious young graduates who followed to fill the same entry-level positions. So long as you played nice, you moved steadily up the escalator, and each step brought with it more power, income, and job security. Eventually, around age sixty-five, you stepped off the escalator, allowing those middle-ranked employees to fill the same senior positions you just vacated. You, meanwhile, coasted into a comfortable retirement financed by a company pension and government-funded Social Security.
People didn’t assume all of this necessarily happened automatically. But there was a sense that if you were basically competent, put forth a good effort, and weren’t unlucky, the strong winds at your back would eventually shoot you to the top. For the most part this was a justified expectation.
But now that escalator is jammed at every level. Many young people, even the most highly educated, are stuck at the bottom, underemployed, or jobless, as Ronald Brownstein noted in the Atlantic. At the same time, men and women in their sixties and seventies, with empty pensions and a government safety net that looks like Swiss cheese, are staying in or rejoining the workforce in record numbers. At best, this keeps middle-aged workers stuck in promotionless limbo; at worst, it squeezes them out in order to make room for more senior talent. Today, it’s hard for the young to get on the escalator, it’s hard for the middle-aged to ascend, and it’s hard for anyone over sixty to get off. “Rather than advancing in smooth procession, everyone is stepping on everybody else,” Brownstein says. (I’ll address why it got jammed in a future post.)
What’s replaced the career escalator? There’s no single metaphor that universally describes the 21st century career journey. For those who lack globally competitive skills (and yet who are simultaneously overqualified for low-skill labor), the current environment feels like slogging through a tar pit. For people with the relevant skills, the journey is like a vast ocean voyage: unpredictable waves, multiple routes to arrive at a destination, the need to keep investing in your vessel lest it capsize, the allies who form an armada around you to cross perilous straits. A recent Fast Company cover story called the winners of the post-escalator job market “Generation Flux,” a reference to their ability to acquire new skills, adapt to change, and reinvent themselves.
Whatever you call the current climate, the point is that the old premises of the career escalator have given way to new realities, and with new realities come new rules. The new rules are ones entrepreneurs have mastered for years and they are the inspiration behind The Start-Up of You.