December 13, 2013

Portfolio Careers: A ticket out of Unemployment?

businesswoman handing over air ticket at airport check in counterAs most of you are beginning to realize, the job for life no longer exists; it has been replaced with the rising tide of lay-offs and multifarious restructures, which have blighted the corporate landscape for the last few decades. As a result, average tenures have been nose diving, and rather than a job for life, recent surveys show that employees can expect a job for about 4.6 years.

But, it’s not just average tenures that are decreasing; the entire landscape is changing as we see a decrease in permanent jobs, as employers – who remain spooked by market instability and economic volatility – become increasingly dependent on contingent workers, i.e. temps, freelancers and part-timers. They are shying away from fixed, permanent workers. Yes, figures suggest that while in 2010 contingent workers accounted for just 1.47 percent of the working population, this has risen to 1.88 percent today in the U.S. and is thought to be still rising.

This decline in permanent jobs in real terms could appear like grim reading for the workers who may be struggling to find what they see as a stable, permanent career with one employer.

But, to think of this situation as a mere shortage of permanent vacancies is what I consider to be upside down thinking. Because, granted, there may be less permanent jobs, but this work is not necessarily disappearing altogether; much of it is being dished out in a more temporary form, which means there is a corresponding rise in contingent work. The job market is becoming less uniform and more fragmented with once permanent work now being disseminated through this contingent labor marketplace. You can see the evidence of this in the explosive growth of sites like elance and Odesk.

And if today’s workers want a piece of today’s job pie they need to be able to adapt to this more fragmented job market by operating in a more flexible way so they can take advantage of the many contingent job opportunities that are available to them.

So, how can this be achieved? It partly requires a mindset shift. Today’s most progressive workers are adapting to this new more contingent and fragmented market by developing their increasingly flexible approach to working, known as a portfolio career. This means that rather than targeting permanent work, and limiting their opportunities, they look to build a balanced portfolio of freelance, temporary and part-time work with a range of employers to form an all powerful portfolio career.

This portfolio approach to a career is highly empowering because it enables workers to take full advantage of the stream of contingent work, which can deliver the same if not more income and flexibility than a permanent job.

And for doubters out there, portfolio career workers are no longer a weird cult; they are all the rage now. It’s the way that progressive workers are adapting to a more fragmented and contingent labor marketplace. Portfolio workers who combine a range of part-time, freelance and temporary work are not second class citizens; they are actually first-class citizens engaging in a socially adaptive and financially empowering portfolio career strategy that enables them to fully exploit the fragmented, contingent labor market we all inhabit.

So, yes, a portfolio career can be a very viable ticket out of unemployment.

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Kazim Ladimeji is a Chartered Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, and has been a practicing HR professional for 14 years. Kazim is the Director of The Career Cafe: a resource for start-ups, small business and job seekers.