The rapidly evolving definition of "Career"​

30 Jun 2020
The rapidly evolving definition of "Career"​

The definition of "Career" is expanding from the notion that it is a life-long dedication to one job.

30 Jun 2020

OP-ED: Brenda Martin, Careers Service Director
PHOTO: Supplied

Earlier this year, as part of my immersion into ‘Careers’ as a discipline at UCT, I asked several new colleagues – within my Department and within the broader Institution - to share their definition of ‘Career’ with me. I was pleasantly surprised to see a common thread of understanding emerge: that the notion of a Career being associated with a life-long dedication to one ‘job’, accompanied by long-term security of income and eventual retirement, was a thing of the past.

To compliment insights from colleagues I also scanned the literature on Careers. Scholars at the University of Southern California have studied career evolution and come up with four broad contemporary categories: there are Linear careers, which climb steadily upward, with everything building on everything else. Then there are Steady-state careers that involve staying at one job and growing in expertise over time. Transitory careers are ones in which people jump from job to job or even field to field, looking for new challenges. And finally, Spiral careers are like a series of mini careers where people spend many years developing in a profession, then shift fields seeking for work that both draws on and builds on the skills of their previous mini careers.

Time and again the literature confirmed that professional Career choices are increasingly made on the basis of access to flexibility and adaptability rather than to job security and structure.

Just as definitions and expectations of careers are evolving, the literature confirms that definitions and expectations of employees and employers are also evolving. Employees are pushing the boundaries of when, how and where they work; Employers are increasingly recognising the value of employing capable generalists who are nimble, proactive and have the skills required to work well with uncertainty.

An aspect of the rapidly evolving world of work that the Careers Service is just beginning to ramp up its support on, is Entrepreneurship. Working with others involved in the UCT community we recently commissioned research to map the UCT Entrepreneurial Ecosystem. The study found a rich and diverse ecosystem made up of student and academic actors, with diverse social enterprise models flourishing throughout the UCT community. The pace of innovation and change among African entrepreneurs is unprecedented and likely to ramp up even more in a world impacted by COVID-19, where employment in the traditional sense, is set to decline even more.

The emerging definition of Career I have found thus far, is that of a professional journey that is subject to regular, conscious reflection and renovation. The journey is supported by lifelong learning, emotional intelligence and the skills required to work well with uncertainty. Put another way, a career is less about what the world can offer you, and more about what you can offer the world.

About the author: Brenda Martin joined the UCT Careers Service as its Director in January 2020. Prior to this her own spiral career journey included playing a leading role in pioneering South Africa’s energy transition away from Coal-fired power from 2007 onward. Her early career was shaped during the national transition to democracy when she worked sequentially in three different public policy sectors at a time of intense national policy design.