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Is the Traditional Career Path Dead?

Our parents and grandparents and probably their grandparents viewed career opportunity as something that was not necessarily within their control.

Lets go back 50 or more years, at least and the relationship between an employer and employee was one of Master and Servant. A promotion was largely accepted as coming from a combination of loyalty (as a servant), hard-work (demonstrating your worth to the master) and a good amount of luck. If you worked in a family business, you just hoped that the son or daughter of the owner had no interest in inheriting the business.

Career Limiting Legacy Businesses

A large number of business owners came by virtue of the legacy of their fathers and perhaps a few from their mothers. Management opportunities were often taken by the children of the owners, eliminating the potential for a Career Path within family owned businesses.

You could of course build additional skills through education and go looking for promotion or a new job but ready access to education was difficult and costly. This was an era before computers, online and distant learning and short-courses at affordable rates.

Benefits of a Career Role

So if you were ambitious in these times gone by you would have had to use a family business as a stepping stone or look for a Career Role within a large business which would provide much more opportunity. As you can imagine Career Roles were hotly contested!

Once you got a foot in the door however and proved yourself, a larger business would accept applications from current employees looking to progress in status, responsibility and of course higher salary.

More enlightened and proactive businesses who could afford a Human Resource Manager may also have had a Talent Management process or Succession Plan.

This system has become the norm for the Traditional Career Path and has been relied upon by millions of workers who have some ambition and drive to progress and a whole lot of patience.

Looming Death of the Career Path

If you work in the HR Profession or in Management you will know that there has been a trend over two decades for organisations to restructure and eliminate layers of hierarchy. The drive for more agile and lean organisations that can respond more rapidly to market, economic and political changes has lead to down-sizing and right-sizing of many companies. In some cases, multiple times or as a regular event!

This trend has also come as a consequence of stakeholder and or customer expectations. Stakeholders keep Boards accountable for profits and restructures almost always have positive financial outcomes.

So what does this have to do with the death of the traditional Career Path? Everything!

In a global survey conducted by Bersin by Deloitte, the No 1 concern for businesses in 2016 was Organisational Structure.

When you remove layers from a structure you remove the potential for promotion at the rate of one to two steps up the ladder. There are very few promotional opportunities that will support an individual to take a quantum-leap in status and responsibility; most promotions will be just one or maybe two steps beyond what is current.

Moral of the Story

The take-away from this is that both people who work in HR and Career-minded, ambitious employees must consider the consequences.

  1. For HR it means that high potential talent will be harder to retain. Career development and a career path that is spiral rather than vertical must be considered in order to keep high potentials engaged and challenged.

    Having professional development budgets and incentives in combination with a Talent Management program will assist to keep to the High-Pos around long enough to provide them with a promotion or temporary deployment that will provide the stretch that they are seeking.

  2. For ambitious, Career-minded individuals it will mean being more focused and disciplined on self-management of your Career.

    When promotion seem unlikely through traditional methods, buying more skills is one option. By continuously investing in self-education and professional development you will build skills that create eligibility for higher status roles that pay more money.

    So when the opportunities for promotion dry up or are too slow for your liking ? its going to have to be your career, on your terms.

Whatever you seek to achieve in your life, be it career or personal ? plan it and set goals, then take action towards getting what you want.

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