The independent London newspaper

Is the ‘job for life’ officially dead?

12 July, 2017

The world of work that our parents and grandparents entered into feels remarkably alien to us now.

Back then, big employers signed up generations of willing workers – sometimes seemingly dominating a whole town or region.

Go to some towns and everyone over a certain age seems to know each other as a result of an old work connection.

Bagging yourself a ‘job for life’ with one of these companies was highly desirable – giving you stability and support throughout your working life.

Not only that but your social life was probably closely linked with your job – with sports and social clubs catering for what you did outside of work too.

You may well have met and married your partner through work too. Yet, steadily, these jobs for life have eroded.

That’s partly down to the fact that many of the UK’s engineering and manufacturing powerhouses have closed their doors – swept aside by technology and globalisation. But it’s also partly down to the changing tastes of the current generation.

People now actually want to have the freedom to move around from job to job – changing their location and working environment regularly to suit their circumstances.

The attitude now seems to be that a job is something you do for a few years before searching out a fresh challenge.

People aren’t necessarily sitting around and yearning to work for one company for 40 years nor – in the hyper-connected digital age – do we yearn for sports and social clubs in the same way.

A study from the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR) says that employers now lose 16 per cent of graduates within the first two years – up from nine per cent in 2016.

One in five graduates leaves their job within a year of completing a graduate development programme, while only half of graduates stay in their first job for five years.

A positive effect of this transitive workforce is that redundancy no longer carries the stigma it once did.

Many people have to go through this in their working lives – and savvy employees plan for how they would cope if they were out of work and unable to earn their current salary.

It’s important to save for a rainy day in case the next job move comes from a decision that is out of your control.

Yet it’s not just that a ‘job for life’ isn’t a thing any more. Many people don’t even follow the same career throughout their working lives.

The London School of Business and Finance found that nearly half of all workers in the UK (47 per cent) would like to change their career.
More than one in five workers (21 per cent) want to make their career hop within the next year and almost a quarter of people (23 per cent) said they regretted their original career choice.

A mixture of regret, desire and even boredom, therefore, means that people aren’t just moving around similar jobs – they’re prepared to make massive changes to their career path. Not only is the ‘job for life’ dead but it’s also unlikely to return.

The debate is not whether we need – or want – to return to the past but whether, in fact, we’ll even have a job at all in the future.

With automation set to further erode the traditional workplace the challenge is to strike the right balance.

It’s hard to imagine that the balance will take us back to a ‘one factory’ town with the social and employment ramifications of that but maybe our career-swapping, retraining, job-every-five-years culture will look just as alien in 30 years as the ‘job for life’ does to us today?

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