ERIC Identifier: ED414436
Publication Date: 1998-00-00
Author: Brown, Bettina Lankard
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse
on Adult Career and Vocational Education Columbus OH.
Career Mobility: A Choice or Necessity? ERIC Digest No. 191.
What is triggering the industrial, occupational, and geographical mobility of
today's workers? Some believe it is a response to downsizing and restructuring.
Others believe it reflects a pursuit for job advancement and a better quality of
life. This Digest examines the factors triggering workers' career mobility and
suggests ways workers can use career mobility to capitalize on the dynamics of a
FACTORS CONTRIBUTING TO CAREER MOBILITY
Job mobility in the
U.S. work force has become the standard employment pattern in today's workplace.
Between 1991 and 1996, the median job tenure for men 25-64 years of age fell by
an average of approximately 19 percent, with older workers most affected: males
55-64 years of age had a 29 percent drop in tenure and males 45-54 years of age,
a 25 percent drop (Koretz 1997). Although the job tenure of females remained
somewhat constant during this period, this may reflect the increased numbers of
women who have entered the work force during these same years rather than stable
job tenure patterns. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 10 percent of
the work force switches jobs every year (Henkoff 1996). The following are some
of the factors contributing to the career mobility of today's workers.
SEARCH FOR COMPETITIVE EMPLOYMENT POSITIONS
downsizing, outsourcing, and restructuring have eliminated many positions of
midlevel management (Appelbaum and Santiago 1997). The typical mid-management
workers in transition are 45-58 years old with over 20 years of job tenure
(Unger 1995). Many older workers nearing retirement age are also in transition
as organizations increasingly offer them incentives to leave their jobs early.
For the most part, these workers are not without skills, nor are they the
victims of age discrimination. It is just that the skills they have and/or their
job functions no longer fit their organizations; they are outdated. Workers
whose skills or motivations no longer fit the organization are being eliminated. "Over the past two decades, Fortune 500 companies have laid off millions of
workers to re-engineer organizational functions" (Borchard 1995, p. 9). Knowing
these facts, many workers who want to retain a competitive position in the work
force are moving to acquire new skills that will enable them to fulfill new
roles. They are taking risks (some imposed and some elected) to tackle the
unfamiliar and develop the skills they need to assume new and challenging
positions in the workplace.
PURSUIT OF A GOOD CAREER MATCH
Young workers typically
demonstrate their quest for a good career match by frequent job moves. According
to Feller (1996), "as many as 50% to 60% of all new hires leave their jobs
within the first seven months" (p. 95). Some job churning may be due to limited
knowledge of job requirements and unrealistic job expectations. For more
experienced workers, the job hop may reflect an attempt to step up the career
ladder. A person may have one or two short-term jobs, but when that employment
pattern is extensive, it can have a negative influence on an employer's decision
to hire. Therefore, job hopping in search of a satisfying career should not
become a way of life. Because it is costly to hire and train new workers, some
employers believe that a worker must remain with a company for at least 4 years
to enable the company to recover hiring costs alone (Blyth 1996).
DESIRE FOR CAREER ADVANCEMENT
Some workers leave their jobs
because they perceive this is the only way to advance. In organizations
characterized by downsizing and restructuring, there are fewer opportunities for
people to move up the traditional career ladder. Many midlevel management
positions have been eliminated, causing the number of qualified candidates to
exceed the number of job opportunities. In addition, innovations such as
precision manufacturing and networked computer terminals are enabling companies
to realize increased levels of productivity with fewer workers. As companies
outsource functions previously performed in house, they also eliminate internal
opportunities (Kaye 1996). For workers who have high career aspirations, these
conditions trigger career movement.
"The Glass Ceiling" phenomenon has prompted many female managers to leave
their organizations because of the lack of advancement opportunities. A recent
study by the U.S. Department of Labor corroborates the lack of equal opportunity
for top-level positions of the organization. "At the highest levels of
corporations, the promise of reward for preparation and pursuit of excellence is
not equally available to members of all groups" (Stroh 1996, p. 102).
SEARCH FOR PERSONAL SATISFACTION
values, and conflicts with other life roles can create personal unrest and
trigger job movement--upward, downward, lateral, and outward. Job
dissatisfaction occurs for any number of reasons. Boredom often occurs when
people plateau in their jobs--when their skills and the direction of the
organization become stagnant (Kaye 1996). People who are involved in work that
lacks personal meaning and value also experience job dissatisfaction, a major
reason for initiating job transition. Another reason individuals plan transition
from one job to another is because their current jobs are in conflict with other
priorities, e.g., marriage, children, parents, and outside interests--all of
which take time and effort. In a poll commissioned by the Merck Family
(Ehrenreich 1995), 72 percent of the male respondents and 87 percent of the
female respondents stated that they want more time to spend with their children.
Twenty-eight percent said they voluntarily took a pay cut in the last year to
make such changes in their lives. Sales of such books as YOUR MONEY OR YOUR LIFE
(Dominguez and Robin 1992) are another indication of the changing values and
priorities of many workers that precipitate career mobility (Griffin 1995).
WAYS TO CAPITALIZE ON CAREER MOBILITY
mobility is initiated by the employer because the tasks, skills, or
characteristics of given workers are no longer needed or by workers because they
are dissatisfied with some aspect of their jobs or organizations, connecting
with new employment can be unsettling. It requires change and change demands
flexibility and compromise. Following are some ways workers can use career
mobility to capitalize on opportunities in the workplace.
HAVE A POSITIVE ATTITUDE
Looking at future opportunities
with enthusiasm and as a chance to tackle new challenges can enhance the
reconnection process. For many, transition can lead to self-renewal--to a
reassessment of existing skills and the development of new skills that will
enable them to be competitive in a rapidly changing workplace. "In the early
1990s, one university president told incoming freshmen that as many as 85
percent of the jobs that will be available by 2010 haven't even been thought of
yet! He also predicted that these students should expect to have 4 to 5
career--not job--changes during their working life" (Unger 1995, p. 44).
DEVELOP NEW SKILLS AND COMPETENCIES
through continuing education and training can open new doors to workers in
transition. In the new workplace, characterized by continuous improvement,
international quality standards, self-management, teamwork, and high skill-high
performance expectations, supervisory and quality control tasks are moving to
the hands of all workers. As a result, the skills required for successful
employment are growing in number and expanding in function. Some educators
believe that "the fastest growing and economically most promising positions are
technical jobs requiring training beyond high school but less than a four-year
degree" (Feller 1996, p. 148).
ENGAGE IN CAREER EXPLORATION
Career exploration and
self-assessment are another area of focus for workers in transition, who may be
young adults between the ages of 28 and 35, who are prompted to move from an
existing job to learn if there is something more satisfying out there; midcareer
adults, 40-55 years old, who are searching for work that they deem worthwhile;
and early retirees (55 years and beyond) who want to build careers in new
directions. The patterns established to acquire new skills and self-knowledge
during the transition period can set the stage for lifelong learning.
BE WILLING TO COMPROMISE
Successful transitions may also
require the development of realistic job reward expectations and an attitude of
compromise. Workers moving to smaller, midsized companies may find that they
must accept reduced salaries, benefits, and job security, which may require a
readjustment of financial goals and spending habits. Even if a new job provides
the same salary, the benefits may be less than in the previously held job. "A
Commerce Department Survey found that only 32 percent of 3.4 million men age 25
to 54 who changed full-time jobs from 1991 to 1993 had employer-sponsored health
insurance in their new jobs, compared with 49 percent who had coverage under
their old employers. And, among 1.8 million similar female job changers, the
incidence of employer-sponsored coverage fell from 46 percent to 30 percent" (Koretz 1995, p. 38).
SEEK CAREER COUNSELING
For those whose work history has
been characterized by "job churning," career counseling may be necessary. Two
reasons for successive job changes that have implications for school-to-work
transition efforts are the lack of appropriate job matching and the failure of
newly hired workers to allow time to become acclimated to the job. Educators can
facilitate transitions by providing students work-related experience through
internships, work experience programs, mentoring, and so forth. Coaching on the
need to allow time to learn the ropes, become familiar with the company
rules/regulations, and become socialized to the new situation is another way
educators can help young workers make successful work transitions (Feller 1996).
Exploring alternative ways to deal with job
dissatisfaction may reduce job hopping. Not all efforts to step up the career
ladder require movement to a new organization. Sometimes career advancement can
be achieved by developing new skills and a willingness to assume new
responsibilities. Lateral shifts offer another way to achieve career mobility
without leaving the organization. Employees can often broaden their knowledge
and skills by shifting to a part of the organization that is targeted for
expansion or restructuring with new technology.
"Downshifting" provides another alternative for workers who are dissatisfied
with their jobs by enabling them to return to aspects of their jobs that are
more enjoyable or present a personal challenge. For example, a school
administrator may recognize that his/her greatest enjoyment and sense of
accomplishment came from teaching and, subsequently, initiate a return to the
classroom. Downward shifts may also make it possible for individuals to
incorporate other priorities more regularly into their daily lives, such as
further education, health needs, and family.
Alternative employment patterns offer another option for workers in or
anticipating transition because they are dissatisfied with their current
full-time status. Because part-time employment offers flexibility for the
organization as well as the worker, nearly 75 percent of all employers in a
survey conducted by Work/Family Directions indicated they now permit part-time
employment compared to 50 percent in 1992 ("FYI" 1996). Flextime, another
employment option, is also increasing in acceptance. In the same 1996 survey,
"57 percent of the employers offer flextime today compared with only 48 percent
in 1992" (ibid., p. 1). Job sharing and telecommuting, although still rather
new, have the potential to become more widespread in future.
Career mobility is a trend that is likely to continue as workers assume more
responsibility for their career development and advancement. The factors
influencing mobility may change, but the ways of using it as a tool for
capitalizing on the dynamics of the changing workplace demand continued skill
development, self-reliance and resilience, and lifelong learning.
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