How To Do Career Design

I wrote previously about the futility of Career Planning and recommended Career Design instead. (See here) The modern workplaces are fast changing. McKinsey points to four Global Trends, each powerful on its own right, which are reshaping the work and the workplaces. These trends are Urbanisation, Technology (Automation, Micro-manufacturing), Demographics (Aging workforce, Young workforce) and indeed Globalisation. As all of these forces reach a tipping point, and therefore, industries are disrupted and new industries and players emerge, the hands-off rational approach of planning a career looks terribly out of date. There are no other ways of appreciating the forces at work other than experiencing them first hand. There is no rational way of coping with such change, since we do not know what the changes could be, but creating a practical, practise orientation, one of adaptability and infinite adjustments. And, in context, what one likes or dislikes, what trade-offs one would make, what priorities would need to be set, are all fairly personal, and no templates, set in advance, would really work.

The point is, then, what could work - or, how does one approach Career Design.

One way of answering that is to look at the Employability problem (or Education-to-Employment Gap) as a three-dimensional problem, consisting of a Skills gap, an Information gap and a Mobility challenge (the SIM model). Too much of our discussions in education focus on Skills alone, which is itself a moving target. However, without a resolution to other two dimensions - do the students really know enough (or are they enthralled by career stereotypes) and are they mobile (or ready to do the trade-offs) - are at least as important to solve the personal career challenges. We see many perfectly capable people struggle at the initial period of their career just because these aspects got missed out in their education. What indeed they do through the early-career struggle is career design, and many turn out perfectly fine once they have resolved those issues.

Also, there is no plausible way to facilitate a design approach to careers other than through a real-life, project based learning experience, which, by its very nature, is practical and practise orientated. However, it could very easily turn out to be a trap. Career Design needs project-based learning, but project-based learning does not automatically guarantee a design approach to careers. In fact, one could be quite tunnel-visioned if they start seeing these projects as mere steps to a stable job. Most cases, that is exactly how project-based learning is viewed, and is embraced. The more valuable aspects of it, the exposure to real work, the key lessons of failure and iterative learning are usually overlooked. One reason this happens is because of the focus on skills in the education system, where projects are seen as ways to enhance skills (and impress the employers) and not so much as information tools (about employer requirements, personal trade-offs etc). In fact, rather than design opportunities, project-based learning often becomes pre-determined planning tools.

One good way of approaching Career Design is indeed to look at oneself both as the designer but as the product as well. Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha offers a great thinking framework in the Start-up of You. Timothy Clark's Business Model You applies the Business Model thinking (popularised by Alexander Osterwalder) to Careers, and offers a handy framework. The problem, however, remains not with the framework, but regarding the information resources one may need while in college (and not after they have finished it, as the early career struggles frequently go wrong as well) to make these tools and frameworks work. 

This may indeed be a market gap and an entrepreneurial opportunity. I know of companies which are building mentoring networks and want to do so globally. Open project platforms, such as Coursolve, which offers Digital Internships, opens up a big educational possibility, though whether this will be adequately integrated into education process remains to be seen. I have been following another company, Career Analytics, for a while, which started with a more traditional approach, but have now come around to one core focus of providing projects and internships to the Engineering students. As with many Ed-Tech ventures, the point is to be able to integrate these good ideas into the educational structure and achieve a more holistic approach, like SIM. However, there is hardly any Google in education that will buy the innovations and fit it around an educational practise, but that, precisely, is the opportunity.


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