Over the past couple of generations, employment expectations in America have undergone some drastic changes. As recently as the 1970s, it wasn’t unusual to know people who had worked at the same company their entire working lives. During your grandfather’s or great-grandfather’s time (depending on whether you’re a Boomer or Millennial), the 30-year career culminating in retirement and a gold watch was the norm. People could count on being employed by the same firm from their 20s until their retirement at 65, with a reasonable expectation that they could work their way up the ladder as their career progressed.
U.S. economics, a couple of recessions, computerization, global trade, the demise of American manufacturing, job migration overseas and a laundry list of social changes have gradually remade the U.S. employment landscape. Before the Boomers were halfway through their careers, job stability was already shaky. Instead of a single job, career counselors were telling workers they should expect to work for 3 to 7 different firms during their working career. Well before the recent recession, that advice had changed from 7 jobs to 7 completely different careers!
Often attributed to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 7 careers figure seems to be one of those urban myths. While a 2010 Wall Street Journal article found most references to the 7-career figure to be anecdotal, it also found that a 7 may be an overly optimistic number. U.S. Census surveys tracking continuous years of employment revealed that between 1996 and 2008, the average length of employment ranged from 3.5 to 4 years. With people working well into their 70s, that could mean as many as 20 different jobs over a lifetime!
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Next time: Defining the new job market