Thirteen 21st Century Career Megatrends – and What You Should Do About Them

career megatrends

Don’t wake up a dinosaur

The rules of work, employment, and career are vastly different from those of a quarter century ago, and “players” (people managing their careers) have to learn the new rules.  As a career-minded professional, you must stay on top of trends that could affect your employability, or income in a few years.  Consider these thirteen trends and how they might affect you in the coming years and plan appropriately – advanced degrees, relocation, financial planning, career-change, new skills, or other languages. There is no excuse, with the plethora of online resources available, for being caught napping!

Here is a summary of global workforce megatrends taken from Reboot Your Career(available September 2016).

Workplace megatrends 2016

1. Globalization. By some measures, and after a century at the top of the economic heap, the United States is now the world’s second-largest economy, and by the middle of the century, it may be third. As globalization continues, the number of people assigned to work outside their home country will double within a decade.

Career message: Facility in working across cultures is no longer optional.  Learn how to adapt your communications style to different cultures.

2. Global talent. The flip side of globalization is talent mobility. Workers in Western economies must compete not just with the best in their country for jobs, but the best from developing economies (particularly Asia). For example, China and India graduate between 500,000 and 1,000,000 engineers per year.

 Career message: Global competition increases the necessity for getting your career and development right.

3. Free agents. Within a decade, half of workers will be soloing (as freelancers, contractors, solopreneurs, or “uberized”). This trend allows employers to manage fixed costs and respond to shifts in demand. At the same time, workers can make more flexible lifestyle choices and potentially earn more than in traditional employment.

Career message: Business development skills are no longer just for salespeople, and technological mastery (of collaboration tools) is no longer just for geeks

4. Project-based businesses. The movie industry brings specialists together from several for projects. Once the project ends, the “business” disbands. In response to demands for greater agility, businesses are becoming project-based (or hybrids of project and traditional structures).

Career message: Project management is a core skill, not a specialist or an elective one

5. Remote working. Even people with traditional 9 to 5 jobs will not be “suiting up and showing up.” The office is no longer the center of production for most people, and managing virtual relationships is more important than ever. The idea of an office, or even a desk, may become an anachronism.

Career message: You will work with many people you will never meet or not know well. Managing virtual relationships across countries and time zones is essential.

6. Always “on.” Whether it’s an email on your phone or software that pings whenever your Delhi colleague uploads a presentation, interruptions never cease. Meetings happen across time zones at odd hours.

Career message: This means an increased need for self-management, knowing how to shut the virtual office door and disconnect. Those who cannot say no or manage the underlying interruptions and expectations will have extreme costs in their personal and professional lives.

7. Retirement is retiring. The idea that we educate ourselves until 22, work until 65, and then ride off into the sunset is now nonsense. As the average life span reaches into the 80s, more people are thinking about how to stay active and productive. Education becomes vital, as the skills required for success change every several years. More workers now think about career breaks and sabbaticals either for educational or personal reasons.

Career message: As you age, you need to continue to take the long view of your career, of where you want to go, and what skills you need to build.

8. Aging. We are getting older, not just individually (sniff), but collectively. The percentage of the world over 65 is the fastest growing demographic segment, and as we have suggested, fewer workers want to “go gentle into that good night.”

Career message: Workers need the skills and maturity to work across generations, while older workers need to stay current. Organizations must completely rethink “up or out” cultures, where high-performers are promoted or move on when promotion is no longer likely.

9. Data-driven, evidence-based. The rise of analytics allows us to make decisions based on concrete data and scientifically proven models. This deluge of data, from sensors (Internet of Things), live videos, bioinformatics, and data mining will now drive decision-making across the business.

Career message: Using statistics, working with coders (data scientists), and using data visualization tools are becoming increasingly important.

10. The rise of the machines. During the early Industrial Revolution, workers threw their wooden shoes (“sabots”) into machines to “sabotage” them, protesting the threat the machines posed to their jobs. No longer are machines just a threat to industrial jobs—many “knowledge-worker” jobs are now under siege from artificial intelligence.

Career message: Stay on top of these trends. They move much more slowly than media hype suggests; nevertheless, they move.

11. Social transparency.  All employers now check social media profiles, and our online behavior leaves a “digital exhaust” which is impossible to hide. However, such transparency cuts the other way also. Companies such as Glassdoor post employee reviews of company culture, rewards, engagement, and management prowess (or lack thereof).

Career message: You need to create a compelling online brand and actively manage possible negatives that employers might consider.

12. Values matter. One change in generational values is that younger workers care about their employer’s footprint—the harm they do, or the good they could do, but don’t. Thirty years ago, it would have been unusual to say, “I want to work someplace that is aligned with my values.”

Career message: You need to be clear about your personal values, the values and practices you want your employer to have, and those you won’t tolerate.

13. Work your weak links. We’re more connected now than ever through social media. We need to cultivate relationships through “weak links”—those LinkedIn and Twitter connections we know less well. Approximately 80% of jobs are found through networking, and those links connect us to the “employer ecosystems” and share inside knowledge and job referrals.

Career message: You need to build relationships with people on social media, particularly on LinkedIn. Most importantly, you need to follow a social media strategy that aligns with your own work styles, interests, and objectives.  

These are the most important general trends for the workforce over the next few decades. The list can appear daunting, but you will only need to pay attention to the ones that affect you.  For some, a general awareness of these trends is sufficient. For others, you must take a look “under-the-hood” of broad topics such as analytics, and machine intelligence to get specific information on which roles will prosper and which will fade.

I’m an author whose “beat” is helping business leaders use science and philosophy to make better strategic decisions, implement change, innovate, change culture, and create workplaces where talent flourishes.  My most recent book, The Science of Organizational Change has been hailed as “the most important book on change in fifteen years.”  

My co-author, Tim Ragan, is founder/ CEO of Career Constructors who specialize in career coaching, career development, and career asessment. Before that, Tim was a strategy consultant, business operator, facilitator, researcher, and author.

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