Why careers needn’t run in a straight line

1 Nov 2023
Could non-linear career paths become the new normal? And what does that mean, anyway? Julie Graham, CEO of Ingeus’ employment services, explains in her latest blog.

If you’re an HR professional and the CV in front of you has two pages packed with different and varied jobs you might raise an eyebrow. Or even a red flag.
Is this person unreliable? Lacks staying power or commitment? Maybe a bit flaky and a bad investment?
But times are changing and now there’s a new trend– the non-linear career path.

Let me unpack that bit of jargon. 
It means a person is not committed to one particular avenue of work, as has been traditional in the past. Instead, as their attitudes and the world around them shift, they make reasoned decisions to embark on new careers.
In the past a person may have had one career. Now they might have several – heading in different directions.
To be clear, these are not job hoppers who, on a whim, might decide they want to try something new or are fed up with their current employer.
These are people for whom the monthly payslip is not the overriding factor in career choice. Job satisfaction, an industry that matches a person’s own passions, the desire for flexible hours or a better work-life balance, the ambition to be at the forefront of emerging technologies, the dream of running their own business – all reasons why somebody might pause, take stock and switch direction.
It’s a trend that, like other aspects of society, has been accelerated by the pandemic, which led many people to reassess their life priorities.
In fact, UCAS, the higher education service, had this advice for students: having no career plan may be the best plan of all! 
What are the other factors that that are driving this trend?
•    The workplace is rapidly evolving: over the next decade, it will change dramatically, with companies looking for skills that don't even exist today. 
•    Workplace happiness is now often the decider for people in their career choices: a non-linear path is becoming a more acceptable way to achieve that.
•    Longer working lives: the World Health Organization estimates that by 2030, one in six people will be 60 years or over – a number that’s expected to double by 2050. It means the traditional 40-year career is likely to extend to 60 years – a length of time for which few of us could envisage staying in the same job. 

Are hiring manager attitudes keeping pace?
Increasingly, yes. They are more likely to view job candidates with non-linear histories as adaptable and open to reskilling if, or when, their organisation needs to change. Many companies actively encourage the non-linear approach by moving towards a broader, skills-based hiring policy – considering applicants who may not have qualifications or experience that would previously have made them best suited to a role. It means self-learners, or those that can show a genuine interest in a career path that matches their own interests and goals, have a greater chance of being taken on.

It’s a trend we encourage at Ingeus too. We are keen that jobseekers – and employers – understand the value of transferable skills. Those non-specific talents such as communication, organisation, resilience and willingness to learn, that ensure a person will be a good investment, whatever the role. Recently we funded a basic computer coding skills training course that saw, for example, a pest controller, a beautician, and a bar manager prove to have valuable digital skills that have opened new career paths for them. For employers it expands the talent pool and is also a great way to increase workforce diversity. At each step a person acquires skills valuable for the next role, creating a portfolio of knowledge and experience. That’s something employers increasingly recognise as useful.

My experience in the employment support sector has taught me to be wary of making predictions. The world of work has, and still is, changing rapidly but I believe the non-linear approach to careers will become part of that. Every day my colleagues see evidence of recognition among employers that their policies need to take the working preferences of their employees more into account. Our jobseekers also understand that ALL skills can be valuable... and transferable. By leveraging these skills and having the courage to make big changes it’s possible to build a career that motivates you for years ahead.

Until it doesn’t. Then it’s time to find a new ladder.

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