It's a balmy evening at the Swainston family home south of Auckland where daughter Shannon, 24, is packing to embark on her "big OE". While she holds a bachelor of communications majoring in journalism, Shannon doesn't intend working in the sector when she's away.
She will travel around Southeast Asia and teach English - if she enjoys the work, she'll return to New Zealand and retrain to become a teacher. At just 24, it will be the third career change Shannon's had since graduating from Auckland University of Technology in 2010 and moving to Sydney. She held her first job as a writer/research analyst for 13 months before moving into public relations as an account executive and manager for two and a half years. She enjoyed the work, but has always been curious about teaching, so figured she'd try it.
For many of Shannon's so-called fellow Generation Y-ers, change is the name of the career game. Anecdotal evidence suggests those entering the workforce now will change careers - not just jobs - between four and seven times. They've grown up in an era where job security is tenuous and have been confronted with wider career choices and options, so why stay doing the same thing. Survey the labour market across the past four or five decades and you'll see how much change, transformation and even revolution there's been in our working lives. The Swainston family provides an apt example.
Shannon's dad, Steve, now 66, was in his late teens when he left school knowing he didn't want to follow his own father into the family engineering business. Instead, he door-knocked at local businesses and landed an accounts job which allowed him to work, train and gain qualifications through practical experience. Back then, there was plenty of work and job security, no need for qualifications upfront, on-the-job training was often provided by employers who saw it as part of their responsibility to staff and most people expected to stay in the same line of work for pretty much their whole working lives.
Steve spent five years away from the profession while he travelled, but intended to return to it.
Now self-employed, he says the biggest change he's seen is that people are working longer rather than retiring; Shannon reckons there's been far more change than that.
"I don't think young people are as willing to start at the bottom and work their way up because, in many cases, the feeling is we've paid a lot of money to get qualified so we're not as willing to start at the bottom and, if a job or career isn't working out, we're more comfortable changing rather than put up with being unhappy," she says.
Her theory is that there is more emphasis on finding meaningful work because career choices shape personal identities. She thinks it's far better to have choice, rather than to be locked in - and miserable - to one job for life.
"A lot of people don't want to do just anything. They're not working to live, but living to work."
This brings pressure to be on-call round the clock, to continuously upskill and stay ahead of rapid technological change. Shannon says it means more competition in every sector of the job market, particularly when it comes to finding work. She believes tertiary qualifications are a necessity to be considered for certain jobs and professions; whether they're needed to do the work is another matter, she says.
Careers New Zealand career development team leader Pat Cody agrees our work environment is now highly competitive with an emphasis on qualifications and on-going training; swift and constant technological advance; a global outlook; and more part-time and contract work. Like Shannon, he believes because of this, there's no longer the same degree of loyalty to one industry or employer.
"People have different relationships to their employers compared to a couple of decades back. You see this particularly with younger people who may view their early working years as exploratory ones where it's about finding what suits them. They are more willing to change jobs, to move on and try something new."
If Pat were to do some crystal-ball gazing, he'd predict that global opportunities will continue to grow; workplace culture will change as staff become more diverse in terms of age, ethnicity and social backgrounds and our ageing population will contribute to this as more of us opt to keep working beyond retirement age. Mechanisation and technology will gallop on, and businesses will become more interested in sustainable practices.
He says keeping pace with this change means increasingly individuals have to take responsibility for continuously developing their careers and improving their appeal to potential employers. This involves:
• Developing competencies of value to organisations such as financial problem-solving, or facilitating groups that may be in conflict.
• Committing to ongoing learning through tertiary education and workplace training.
• Getting mentoring or coaching to help you navigate your career landscape.
• Fostering networks to tap into hidden job market.
He acknowledges some find this new world of work frustrating and higher-skilled workers continue to have more opportunities.
"When it comes to getting a job, there are more processes to navigate and greater expectations around competencies and qualifications. It is often about marketing yourself and some New Zealanders do struggle with this because they know they can do a job and just want an opportunity to demonstrate this.
"Gone are the days when upward promotion in one organisation can be expected, so it is important to accept change and consider one's career as a lifelong journey. This means asking broader questions. We need to consider where we want to be in life, how we can get there and whether it fits with our life values and goals."
Future-proof your career
• Ask yourself the big questions and make a career plan. No matter what your age, there are excellent online resources to help get your career moving on www.careers.govt.nz
• Look for ways to hone your CV to improve your appeal to potential employers.
• Be aware of technology as it relates to your industry and how it will play a vital role in the future.
• Keep an eye on local and national labour market needs. Careers NZ's online jobs database has information on future prospects for more than 400 occupations, along with long-term and short-term skill shortages.
• Look for opportunities to specialise by aligning your skills, interests and study with fast-growth or high-demand industries.
Be flexible and open to change.