The labor market is constantly changing. We hear only too often about the ageing population, digitalization and computerization. However, the popularity of these buzzwords highlights the fact that career changes later in life are becoming a reality, and this presents challenges for employees and people managers alike.
Taking a step toward a different career
The reasons why employees switch careers later in life vary. In some cases, social changes are responsible. For example, many sectors that once offered secure employment have digitalized their processes. And over the past few years, banks dealing with losses have laid off a large proportion of their employees with bridging pensions. This means jobs are disappearing or companies look for different skills in their employees. But sometimes there is a more personal reason for switching career.
"Mostly, people whose jobs disappear look for another organization where they can fulfil a similar function to their previous one. But, considering most careers will last more than 40 years, it begs the question ‘Why don’t we retrain after 20 years in the same field?' "
Radical career changes are still quite rare, according to Ans De Vos, career specialist at AMS and holder of the SD Workx Chair “Next Generation Work: Creating Sustainable Careers.” “Mostly, people whose jobs disappear look for another organization where they can fulfil a similar function to their previous one, but taking up a completely different job is something we don’t often see. But this may not always be the case. Right now, 18-year-olds are choosing career paths they will stick to throughout their lives. But, considering most careers will last more than 40 years, it begs the question ‘Why don’t we retrain after 20 years in the same field?’. It isn’t, after all, certain that a job you choose when you are young will keep on satisfying you. Sometimes, professionals in their 40s realize that they no longer feel connected to their organization or position. They wonder how useful their jobs are and how ethical it is to spend their days doing a job they don’t believe in.”
“Ten years ago, the focus in strategic management was firmly on the quality of the product or service. Alongside quality we now see innovation as a core value. People maangers have to translate this to actual behavior."
The manager as a spider in a complex web
It is vital for managers to be prepared for these trends. AMS’ Future Of Work program responds to that need, focusing on future challenges in the labor market and their impact on leaders of organizations. The six-day program is aimed atprofessionals such as team leaders, management consultants and HR managers. Participants will develop up-to-date, future-oriented perspectives and learn how to apply their new understanding.
Peggy De Prins, the program’s academic director, sees it as her mission to bolster people managers and prepare them for today’s challenges. “People managers are connected to multiple environments in which transitions take place continuously,” she says. First, there is the environment of the organization itself, where strategic management plays an important role. “Ten years ago, the focus in strategic management was firmly on the quality of the product or service. This has changed. Alongside quality we now see innovation as a core value. People managers have to translate the idea of innovation into actual behavior in the organization, so that it’s not just theoretical.”
“In the new generation, we see more clearly the need for autonomy.”
Employees and their attitudes constitute a second environment—and one that has also changed. Whereas employees used to work in strict, hierarchical systems, “in the new generation, we see more clearly the need for autonomy,” De Prins says. These young employees want more say in defining their jobs.
A third environment is wider society, which has seen many changes, including the rise of globalization and individualization. The question of longer working lives is also important and has a big effect on people managers’ work. How can we sustain longer-lasting careers?
Taking these spheres all together, a people manager can be seen as a small part in a large and complex system. He or she needs to search constantly for the right balance, facilitating useful and practical solutions for the team.
“They will have to distinguish themselves and present a strong image to future employees. Being a good employer will be particularly important.”
Labor market difficulties and shortages
Developments in the care sector show how important it is for managers to anticipate changes. It is difficult to find new employees in this sector. However, interest in careers in the area has increased recently—a welcome development, given that the demand for hospital workers is projected to rise by over 40% in the next few years. To meet this demand, the care sector has tried to recruit lateral-entry employees through campaigns and open days.
De Prins explains that, because of the ageing population, recruitment difficulties will become common in more and more sectors. “I believe that we will face a shortage in the future, which will pose an enormous challenge to enterprises and to all people managers. They will have to distinguish themselves and present a strong image to future employees. Being a good employer will be particularly important.”
"In some organizations, things are managed less efficiently. When this transition is combined with starting in a junior position, in which giving feedback is difficult, the adjustment can be hard.”
Keeping employees close
Nonetheless, it remains the case that switching careers is not yet the norm. “You can tell that more people are considering switching than ever before, but they postpone their plans because of time or financial constraints,” De Vos says. “It is quite a task: you have to make a large investment, you lose the connections and expertise you have built up, and you start over in a junior position.” By demonstrating that it is a good employer, an organization can dispel employees’ doubts.
De Vos asserts that organizational culture is key. “I have seen how people who switch from the profit to the nonprofit sector have to adapt to a new culture. In some organizations, things are managed less efficiently. When this transition is combined with starting in a junior position, in which giving feedback is difficult, the adjustment can be hard.” People managers can anticipate this. By placing importance on employees’ wishes and the overall organizational mentality, an organization can form a strong connection with its staff.
“Together with participants, we will identify the different spheres in their organizations, so that they can anticipate more directly all the factors that influence their own working situation.”
The Future of Work program can help people managers develop their understanding of what it is to be a good employer. Says De Prins: “Together with participants, we will identify the different spheres in their organizations. Taking that as a starting point, we will look for ways in which we can reinforce them as people managers, so that they can anticipate more directly all the factors that influence their own working situation.”