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Pop-Up Careers: The New Normal?

Did you see that miillennials expect to have about 15-20 jobs in their lifetimes? So the idea of one job for life has gone the way of the transistor. Out of the window with it goes hallowed virtues such as employee loyalty and company training.

But I fear that even 15-20 jobs doesn’t get to the heart of the problem. Maybe 15-20 careers captures the idea better. That is, it’s more likely that, instead of having, say, 5 jobs in your career you would have 5 careers. One of the questions I often put to colleagues and friends, ostensibly to scare them, is whether they have prepared for the career after the next one. Of course, they haven’t even prepared for the next career in the vast majority of cases.

Here’s where I’m going. Having a series of jobs in one industry or job classification is also going the way of the dodo. Rather, the millennials will have a series of careers.

I call it the pop-up career. You know, like pop-up shops; these are shops that have a lifetime of maybe a few weeks and then are closed again when demand for the fast fashion (for example) has evaporated as expected. So along with the pop-up shop you also get pop-up workers, pop-up fashions, pop-up managers, and presumably pop-up loyalties and friendships.

The workers then go on to their next pop-up career, barista, Uber driver, fast-food worker, English teacher (in China) or whatever, entrepreneur, home health aide. So that’s several careers right there, maybe even in less than a year or two You get the point.

In the Stone Age (i.e. before 2000) you want to school and university (maybe), got a qualification in sociology or math and got a job in a related area, at least for a few years before you moved on. But how do you train for a lifetime of pop-up careers. There’s no degree for that and don’t tell me liberal arts coz that makes you well-rounded; that’s bull’s fluff.

Actually the issue isn’t even just what qualification you do, it’s the architecture of your lifetime work efforts. Since most teachers have had their job for life they can’t help you other than tell you to do liberal arts or STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) and even STEM isn’t going to help you, not if you do math or science anyway.

Career advisers just aren’t equipped to address this challenge. Actually being a career adviser is one of their pop-up careers and they’re all trying to figure what their next pop-up career will be coz no-one ever told them about the issue either. So they are usually just as clueless as their advisees.

Here’s my take on how someone has to prepare themselves for a lifetime of pop-up careers:

Family of careers: You have to think in terms not of a job with particular qualifications, but instead of a family of careers each having completely different job descriptions but with a set of different areas of knowledge which can be made to interlock like a Lego set; say some SEO, website design, social media marketing, health administration. Your pop-up careers will be somehow related to different combinations of these areas used in totally different jobs. This collection of knowledge areas is your baseline career portfolio.

Don’t over-invest by doing one degree/qualification in particular areas: doing a 4 or 5 year degree in just about anything is overkill these days; better to do a series of 6 month courses that you can draw upon for different career families. They don’t have to be at a university or even a community college. For most people a MOOC (massively open online course) is more than enough. As long as you pay to get the certification, you’re golden.

Learn how to write well: For Pete’s sake don’t go out and do a liberal arts degree, that’s big mistake number 1. But you do need to write English well coz you have to convince your new pop-up employer that you have the flexibility and agility to down whatever he wants you to do, which could and probably will turn on a dime. So do a three month course in writing at your local community college. Focus on how to write press releases, not Jane Austen’s novels.

Do a quick course in selling: This one thing will set you apart from the vast majority of people and give you a huge advantage. Nothing happens without a sale and it doesn’t matter what pop-up career you are in, somewhere along the line the ability and confidence to sell will be a huge asset to you. Actually it’s childishly easy to do the training; a one-week course will suffice for most people. If for whatever reason you can’t do that, go to Toastmasters for 6 months; that will fix the problem.

Do a short course in accounting: Yep, everyone despises this idea coz they look down on accountants, see them as bean-counters. Yet a short course in accounting – say 3 months – will equip you with the knowledge to do the financial side of 90% of jobs out there and so bolster your pop-up potential enormously. It does without saying that you have to do it with a popular system like QuickBooks or similar. But if you do this you can become a manager, entrepreneur or a role with a financial element with relative ease. Voila, you’ve just addressed a vital element of 7 of your future 15 careers.

Do a short course on mindfulness to get mental agility: So what’s that? Check it out on Google but basically it will teach you how to become aware of your numerous weaknesses and vulnerabilities so you can do something about them. That will give you the mental agility to turn your mind to anything without confronting the mental blocks that are going to stop you getting into many pop-up careers. The idea is that it doesn’t matter if you know have the knowledge as long as you can figure out how to get it and how to change your behaviors so that you can overcome any cognitive biases that would other prevent you from using that knowledge.

Now I know this goes again the grain of the classical well-rounded education or the specialist. But that’s life. These days you don’t want lots of knowledge, you want a basic knowledge wardrobe and a lot of mental agility.






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