People talk about how we are transitioning from an ‘industrial’, to a ‘knowledge’ economy, but they are wrong. We are already there. We live at a time when ‘what you know’ is secondary to ‘how you find out’. Your ability to manipulate data, to navigate concepts as easily as you navigate websites, and to discern the valuable from the worthless in short order will set you apart. The ability to learn and to keep on learning, to measure your years in how much you’ve changed and to flex your skills to new challenges and new environments is essential. Those who are light of foot will thrive.
There was a time when your employer owned your career. They provided your salary, your training programme and they owned your aspirations. But no longer. They may provide your laptop and the chair you sit in, but increasingly people can be said to own their own careers. We learn constantly, both within and outside of ‘work’. As social spaces collapse the divide between ‘formal’ work environments and ‘informal’ social ones, we also see the breakdown of the notion of ‘control’.
The push by organisations for people to travel in their own time, to learn in their own time and to access their emails in their own time has led to the realisation that the time is their own. Our time is there to spend as we will: the question is, ‘what will you spend that time on and who will benefit?’
Whilst ‘knowledge is power’, skills are what allow you to flex that power. Just knowing things may be interesting, but being able to bring that knowledge to bear is what really counts. The skills of researching, influencing, leading and planning, as well as a host of others, dictate how far we can progress in a particular job: but these skills are also transferable. There is very little that is owned by the company any more.
With LinkedIn, personal blogs and self publication, people are more easily able to develop a personal profile that they can shape and grow independently of the actual ‘job’ that they are inhabiting at any one time. Reputation counts for more than which desk you sit at.
To match the requirements of this more fluid world, we need a more fluid approach to education and learning. The old notion of apprenticeships were valid when you needed to learn a defined set of skills and knowledge for a job at the start of your career, but today, it’s more likely to remain fluid. We need ongoing apprenticeships, funding and opportunities for lifelong personal development, more of a mindset that education is something we access at will and throughout our lives, not just as drunken, debt ridden students. Many of the media graduates i see today come out of university with skills that are already redundant. Simply teaching people to use a particular piece of software counts for very little when what i am looking for is agility and flex.
These changes bring opportunities: most people in their thirties have been made redundant at least once or twice. The trust between organisations and employees is fractured, but on the flip side, it’s easier to be agile. Portfolio careers are becoming the norm whilst ‘long service’ is no longer necessarily viewed as a good thing. As we adapt to the notion that we spend our time where we will, the idea that we can invest that time in learning becomes more valid. Taking time to learn the new knowledge and skills that will let us achieve the next step in the career that we own.