By Judit Price
I have previously written about the alarming growth of the temporary workforce. Anyone whose livelihood depends of the policies of a company battered by recession and financial stresses can well understand the uncertainty that permeates the working population.
As a working community, most us get through difficulties. However, there is significant evidence that a trend that began some years ago with office and low-skilled employees has been moving up the food chain to encompass, finance, technical and other professionals. In one form or another, a growing percentage of the workforce must now be responsible for their own careers, facing an employment world in which an employer is a merely a customer that provides work. So when the work is done, we then have to move on to another customer.
A position can even last for some years and include substantial benefits, but eventually -- whether by policy or to accommodate changing markets or economic difficulties -- the position is eliminated. We see this as firms reduce or eliminate health-care coverage, and people are forced seek insurance independently, and replace pensions with 401(k)s and other portable programs.
Both of these factors share a common component. We are called on to be responsible for our own jobs, careers and lives in ways our parents never had to face. We have to start thinking like business people.
Support services of all types are subject to the stresses caused by
The temp industry has continued to expand and has been at the forefront of redefining the understanding between the worker and the work performed. This idea of the permanent/temp is now part of almost every sector of the economy and every profession.
Beyond temporary unemployment insurance, some retraining and other programs, and lots and lots of networking opportunities, we are on our own in an unsympathetic society.
This is part of the answer to the following question: What can each of us do to survive and even thrive? We begin by recognizing that we are actually on our own, that each of us must take charge of his or her working life and shape it to fit our individual needs. In some ways, that is very cruel, but it is our system, for better or for worse.
I worked in academia for many years. My husband worked in high-tech. Both of us well understand the contrast between the stresses of working for someone else and working for yourself. Keep in mind in both circumstances there is stress, especially during downturns. But it is a different kind of stress involving a different kind of mindset.
This difference is crucial because taking charge -- really taking charge -- can open doors to opportunity if we are willing to take the risks and invest the time to get the tools to help us on the way. The search for a job or career must go beyond reading the employment ads or waiting for that call back. It is essential to acknowledge responsibility for our own career and job. Each of us has to look at the search for a job or a career as a job in itself. That means devoting hours studying, meeting, writing, calling, searching, visiting and exploring every opportunity and every road to an opportunity to acquire the skills necessary to succeed. Finding the right job only means now you can get paid as you continue the process of looking to build your career with the next job.
Why should we view our jobs in this light? Because we are viewed this way by employers. Of course this is not universally true, but let's not be naïve. Generosity in good times is quickly lost in tough times. And most of us will have some tough times at some point in our careers. Some are affected more than others, but almost everyone has to face the inevitable bumps. And when that happens, we need to be prepared.
The key is ongoing preparation, professional growth and networks.
Everyone wants a good job. We also want a measure of security. Because the old rules have changed, at least for now, a career strategy becomes more important. That means focusing on both how to succeed in the next job, just in case. This is the mindset of business owners, constantly challenged to service current customers to the best of their ability, while trying to figure out how to get new customers. Both activities must work simultaneously, to succeed today and build for tomorrow.
From time to time, I do meet with people who have "opted out," deciding there is no point in trying. I remind them they have made a personal choice. They have refused to create a plan, focus their energy and drive forward. It was their choice. And just as they have chosen this path, they could choose another path to reinvigorate themselves, start a new career, move forward in some direction.
Judit Price is a masters-level career guidance counselor, certified career master, international job transition coach and a career development facilitator. She is also a principal at Berke and Price Associates, Skills for Career Services, in Chelmsford. Contact her at email@example.com.