Deciphering the Jobs Paradox: Part III

February 8, 2012


In Part I and Part II of this series, I described some of the structural paradoxes in the jobs economy and the university industry, that are contributing to the puzzling phenomena of simultaneous high unemployment and unmet demand for talent. In this concluding part, I mine The Economist’s Special Report for some suggestions for how emerging professionals can position themselves to navigate these paradoxes for successful careers in the social sector.

Society is the Classroom: How to Become What Employers Are Searching For

The best answers come from the article “My Big Fat Career”, the central argument of which is that individuals must stop handing their employer institutions the responsibility for managing their careers. The article quotes London Business School’s Lynda Gratton, who argues in her book The Shift: The Future of Work is Already Here, that:

The pleasures of the traditional working role were the certainty of a parent-child relationship. You could leave it in the hands of the corporation to make the big decisions about your working life… Now the world is moving towards an “adult-adult” relationship, which will require each one of us to take a more thoughtful, determined and energetic approach to exercising the choices available to us”.

However, as we have discussed, our education systems aren’t set up to prepare us for this type of continual learning. So how do we do that, exactly? Gratton lays out a three-point plan for developing one’s personal account of “social capital”, which includes:

  1. Building a “posse” of people in your field you can turn to for emerging opportunities when you need them
  2. Building a “big ideas crowd” to keep you mentally fresh, the types of people you often find at future-of-the-world conferences like TED and DLD.
  3. Cultivating a “regenerative community”, family and friends who can keep you centered and relaxed.

None of these are specific skills or abilities that will stand out on your resume in our constrained and thus highly competitive jobs economy, present and future. However, as nearly everyone who has been employed for more than five years will tell you, its not what you know but who you know (and how you know them) that will get you the foot-in-the-door of a job you want. These people will also tell you that they typically learned more on the job than they ever did in a classroom.

In today’s “make a job, not take a job” world, it is limiting to rely only on our campus career centers (which aren’t designed for the new economy) to help us find a job when we graduate. To be what employers are looking for, we need to build the types of communities Gratton describes. But to be in the position to build them in the first place, we need to work, relentlessly and purposefully, to meld our academic learning with what we encounter in the real world when we try to get things done.

The separation of classroom and society needs to end. Society, and how we operate inside it, is the new classroom.

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