When people talk about having job security, what they generally talk about is how long they can expect to have the position they are in, how stable the company might be, or how much demand there is for the specific position. And forty years ago, this was a great conversation. Today, however, none of those things truly represent what job security looks like in the current economy. Which is why I think it’s time we start to make our own definition.
Let’s start with how long someone can expect to have their current position. If you want to follow the averages of the last fifteen years, you would find that the average person holds the same position for about 3 years. Counting on having the same job for the long term is like counting on your current phone to last for the rest of your life, you like it, and it really works for you, but eventually you have to let it go.
How about company stability? Well, given the average life span of a fortune 500 company has went from about 30 years in 1995 to about 10 years today, I could probably feel better than the 3 year position average if I begin working up the ladder. But the likely-hood that my company, or at least my department is sold, shut down, or merged in the next few years makes me feel the same sense of security I imagine I would on a sinking ship…Hey, at least we are not under water yet.
Now, if we can’t rely on the first two old ideas of job security, surely we can hang our hats on the third. As long as my position is in demand, then so am I. Right? Sure, if you would like to completely re-educate, retrain, and start from scratch in a new position every five or ten years. Twenty percent of jobs in today’s economy did not even exist fifteen years ago. That means, if I would have (and I did) focused my career choices based on what was currently in demand when I was in college twenty years ago, there is a high likely hood something else is in more demand today (and they were) or worse, that the position I had trained for before no longer even exists from automation, globalization, or other factors.
If the old definition of job security is no longer working, what is it that we can rely on? What could help a person sleep at night without the constant worry that they may be out on the street the next week as a victim of this hyper changing, rapidly evolving, seemingly insecure economy? Perhaps just a simple re-interpretation of the ingredients that used to create job security.
If you cannot expect to have your current position for more than three years, it makes sense that planning for this would be at least helpful. We have to stop looking at our careers in terms of a position and start looking at them as constant learning and development opportunities. Instead of looking for a stable position, start looking for positions you are uniquely interested in learning something within. If you are constantly learning, you begin to see changes coming, and your next move is not a surprise, but an obvious, planned, and secure next step.
Without stability being provided by the company, you are now free to create stability from your expertise, your unique passions, and getting really good at making those things valuable to any company. How well do you know how what you do can be applied across numerous industries? How well do you know what makes you unique? Security goes to those who know this better than the person next to them simply because they can more clearly communicate the value they will bring to the table.
Instead of running around chasing the in-demand jobs, relying on someone else to determine your in-demand-ness, what if you figured out how you can create demand? How does what you want to learn about and your unique skillsets combine to solve a problem no one knows about yet, or find an opportunity no one has noticed yet? Social media marketers did not even exist fifteen years ago. But some people that knew what they did well, and what they wanted to learn, created entirely new jobs that exist, and are in demand, in almost every company today. I bet they are feeling pretty secure right now.
Job security in the learning economy will not be provided for us but created from us. Knowing what you want to learn, your unique passions, and how to combine those to meet the constantly changing needs of today and tomorrow are a few ways to create it. The keys are in our hands now. If we are willing to do the work involved, we can design our own futures from our interests, create our own paths in line with our passions, and find the security that comes with being the most in-demand people in our fields.