X’s, Y’s and a T-shape of Skills


I’ve read two great articles by The Fast Company in the last week.  The first, “Generation Flux” talks about so many things that fascinate and excite us at TomorrowToday – the pace of change in business (and everywhere else as well), the response of Generation X and Y, and ultimately, how this combination of factors is driving a new, massively altered, scary, thrilling world of work.

The interviewees are, of course, exceptional performers – but not so exceptional in the generational values they possess that allow them to embrace such untraditional career paths.

“The Four Year Career” covers similar territory, but focusing in on career paths and skillsets. The title is a bit disingenuous as the average length of tenure at a US company has actually risen consistently in the last 1o years, but the content is great.  I love the     reference to a ‘T-shape’ of skills – with a breadth of skills and experiences but a depth of expertise in one area.  As a Boomer/Gen X cusper, I have noticed this tendency for a ‘portfolio’ career appear amongst my friends and colleagues in the last couple of years, as we start to hit our mid-40s.  Perhaps it is the recession giving us both more time and the necessary financial push to expand our income streams.   Perhaps we are just more secure in our ‘time of life’ and we can indulge our love of learning.  Whatever it is, younger Gen X’s and Gen Y’s are born with it and start their careers with this mindset from the get-go.  I don’t know so many 20-somethings, but the ones I do know all have several types of work ‘on the go’ – often with a main ‘career’ but following other opportunities in their downtime.  They are using the time they have before they start families to build a future that will make them financially secure, but also one that they enjoy and that will deliver the lifestyle ‘mix’ they want to retain.  The professional qualifications they have obtained may only be used to secure temporary ‘proper job’ that will pay the bills while all the sub-careers are being developed.  Companies and public bodies (think of the impact on the teaching profession for example…) will have to contend with employees moving on of their own accord more frequently, rather than having it forced upon them by poor economic conditions or structural changes of one sort or another.  Businesses will be in danger of losing skills and knowledge – successful companies will be those that can innovate ways of retaining their talented employees whilst allowing them to experience and learn.  If they can manage this (and there are many well on the way) what an amazing, multi-faceted workforce they will have!  But one struggles to imagine a spirited public sector response….

Another item from last week illustrates that what is also so interesting about this new way of working is that it requires some very traditional life disciplines. NS&I’s regular savings survey shows 16-34 year olds to be the most dedicated group of savers in the UK.  Necessarily, perhaps, they are saving for a deposit for their first house, but also for holidays, a car, even ‘emergencies’. The recession has hit at a fascinating time. Gen X’s instinct is for immediate gratification, but hard times have given it the opportunity to learn, just in time, that some caution is necessary. Gen Y is naturally more conservative, and the recession has reinforced those latent values.

Saving is regarded as an ‘old-fashioned’ concept – our Silent grandparents would be proud – but what is actually happening is a very logical and intelligent response to a future career trajectory with no defined shape and even less security.

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