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Career progression in the 21st century

A new piece of research aims to look at what exactly in the definition of a career in the 21st Century

Blessing White's research team is putting the finishing touches on our 2014 state of the career research. This report will present the findings from 2,000 global respondents across a wide range of industries and functions. It will also synthesise the findings from over 40 interviews with senior managers and HR leaders. Prior to its release, here is a quick synopsis of what emerged from this year's study. The title chosen for this report is “Navigating Ambiguity.” We are finding that the notion of “career,” as a concept, perfectly captures the nature of the changes we are seeing across the world of work. If career is about planning and developing skills and capabilities to ensure we are ready for what's ahead, how do we do this when the future is so uncertain?

Ambiguity appears in several forms when it comes to career:  From the employer's perspective, developing people for the future is difficult when roles and required skills are evolving quickly, and the need to be nimble makes it very challenging to plan people's development or make long-term commitments.From an individual's perspective, the expectation that employers can or will provide a clear career path is a thing of the past. It is well understood that the best path to career growth, professional satisfaction and job security is by building skills and experiences that make the individual highly valued.

In fact, based on 2,000 responses worldwide: 88 p of employees agree with this statement: “I don't think there is anything wrong with staying in the same job if I can try new things or develop my skills.” Only 41 percent expect their employer to provide clear career paths.A slim 24 percent know what their employer wants their next job to be.

Just 28 percent are confident their next career move will keep them with their current employer. Both employers and employees understand there can be no guarantees. The tools and resources required to effectively manage a career keep on evolving. So where do we focus our efforts?

The acronym “VUCA” (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) was borrowed from the military. Its use is growing in the world of business strategy and talent management, and for good reason. The luxury of long-term workforce planning and formal career paths no longer exists. Companies that are still investing their efforts in large-scale, structural approaches find themselves scrambling as reality hits and the future they planned for is not the one they encounter. As a result the military parallel is very tempting: the goal is to prepare for the future without ever knowing for sure what you will encounter on the ground.

Best practice suggests that the goal is to be prepared but remain nimble: Build skills and experiences, don't focus on fixed roles and hierarchies.Enable flexibility in workforce planning and be prepared to juggle things on the ground. Allow individuals to suggest roles they might take on, rather than solely expect “management” to figure out what is needed. Develop an organisational approach of adapting as you go: allow managers and team members to collaborate to morph roles and take on temporary assignments to get the work done, and to develop skills and experiences to take the organisation forward. Have individuals equipped and prepared to jump in quickly when opportunities arise. But a quick change means that there is a real risk of people jumping into jobs that turn out to be a bad fit. Individuals need to think and plan in advance about what type of opportunities will allow them to best deploy their skills and talents to the best advantage of the company and their own career ambition as well.