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How to level-up at work

I’ve been thinking a lot about age, and ageing, at work. When I see people decades younger than me in senior corporate positions, I realise that they must have planned and been smart about their goals and ambitions. I didn’t have a career plan in my 20s or 30s — and neither did any of my contemporaries. The concepts of mentorship, sponsorship and networking were never mentioned, and the enormous choice of career-focused online content — not to mention books and conferences — didn’t exist. (Read Sophia Smith’s reporting, below, on the future of hiring to see how far things have progressed.)

Realising that there’s less time ahead of me at work than lies in the past has provided a great focus. As a wise person suggested to me, the older worker’s task is to make those remaining years really meaningful. We have hard-won resilience and wisdom — and I’m enjoying work, alongside colleagues of all ages, more than ever.

Am I in the minority? The “grey resignation” is a term I’m seeing everywhere, describing older workers who are leaving in high numbers. Do let me know if you have (or have definitely not) chosen to ditch a corporate career after 50. We’ll come to this topic soon on the Working It podcast, and we want to include your collective wisdom.

PS I recommend Stefan Stern’s FT article outlining the emerging ‘‘third age” of our working lives.

You can reach me at isabel.berwick@ft.com. See you next week.

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The future of hiring is all about skills

© FT montage / Unsplash / Getty

When I was growing up, education was king. Get a college degree, my mother said — and ideally a masters and a PhD — and it would unlock a bountiful career. It’s still true that degrees translate to higher lifetime earnings, but today’s workers need to continue developing skills to stay relevant.

The World Economic Forum has suggested that we need to train more than 1bn people on new and evolving skills by 2030. And recent data from LinkedIn shows that skill sets for jobs have changed by 25 per cent since 2015. Hiring practices have also begun to emphasise skills; the number of recruiters using LinkedIn skills data is up 20 per cent year on year — and those who do are more successful in filling open roles.

A skills-first hiring approach — which prioritises competency over, say, a résumé studded with glossy companies and a degree-level education — would help to ease a tight labour market. According to a Harvard Business School study, 80 per cent of business leaders said their applicant tracking systems were filtering out half of high-skilled candidates due to system parameters like résumé gaps or missing credentials. And a recent report published by Opportunity at Work found that there are more than 70mn American workers, many of whom are people of colour, who have developed skills without obtaining a degree.

We may be moving towards a more fluid market where workers leverage their specific skill sets rather than focusing on a linear path. In the media industry, Chandra Turner is one career coach who is already tracking skill-transferable opportunities.

The job market of tomorrow might be less fussy about “career changes” and unconventional résumés, in which workers more freely assess next moves based on where their skills are most needed — and most highly compensated. (Sophia Smith)

Have you made efforts to level up your professional skills in the past year? Take our poll.


Listen in: What’s behind ‘The Great Resignation’?

On this week’s Working It podcast, my colleagues Pilita Clark, Emma Jacobs and I dig into the reasons why millions of people are quitting their jobs. Pilita mentioned “terror management theory”, the awareness of the role that death plays in our lives, as one factor. The pandemic has made us think about mortality, which can influence our choices — including quitting a job we don’t love. We could only touch on this briefly in the podcast, but there’s more in this academic paper.

Pilita Clark [left] and Emma Jacobs record Working It in the FT’s London studio, watched by producer Anna Sinfield.

In next week’s episode, we unpack the concept of “upskilling”. Everyone seems keen on more training and skills — but what is most useful? According to our guests, New York University’s professor Raúl Sánchez and instructor Dan Bullock, effective communication is the key. (Isabel Berwick)


Elsewhere in the world of work:

  1. The end of sick days: Because remote work has made it possible for staff to clock in from anywhere at any time, some people are working through illness. While it may seem easy to clack away on a laptop from bed, the cost to health and productivity can be significant.

  2. Japan’s heir shortage: Tens of thousands of Japanese businesses will close this year as the country’s ageing population scrambles to find successors. As the crisis grows, so has the industry around it — including a “dating app”-style system called Tranbi that matches heirless company owners with potential buyers.

  3. The online course boom: A wave of entrepreneurs are capitalising on the soaring interest in online courses, seeking niches where they can earn money from students who want to gain à la carte career skills that aren’t covered in traditional classrooms.

  4. April book recs: This month’s business book reviews feature titles on how to IPO, lead through tension, pursue work you love, and how the flexible work economy improves lives. Check out the full reviews.

  5. A cheeky break: Back in the day we used to have “a cheeky fag”, writes author Viv Groskop. Now smoking is less popular, but the need to step away and have a moment alone endures. As hybrid work pulls us in many directions at once, it’s no wonder we want to create a gap to catch our breath.


Ask the experts:

Dear Working It,

I work in an understaffed department in the health sector that’s losing high calibre staff, with no replacement staff found for several months. It’s upsetting to work without quality colleagues, and I am in a dilemma whether I should leave this sinking ship. Should I leave while I still have time to find another job? How do I assess this situation personally and professionally?

Sincerely,
Should I Stay or Should I Go

Dear Should I Stay or Should I Go,

Seeing others jump ship can be alarming. But almost everyone leaves eventually, so I believe the root of your question is actually: should I leave now, or wait a little longer? The answer requires a closer look at what is motivating you.

First, ask yourself, do you want to stay because you love your work? Or because you feel obligated? Do you want to leave because you’re looking out for your best interests? Or because anxiety is motivating you to take action immediately? Write out your answers and reflect on whether your motivations align with your values. You may notice a pattern that shows up in other areas of your life. For example, do you stay in dead-end relationships out of a sense of duty? Or do you tend to cut and run as soon as the going gets tough?

Next, remind yourself that we’re in a moment when individuals are being called upon to fix systemic issues. We often have more power than we realise to change our workplaces. Are you being asked to tolerate a toxic work environment that you don’t have the power to influence? Or do you feel called to help fix the system before you move on?

Maybe there are some things you can improve before you eventually leave. Reflect on what you’ve learned and what you want to do differently in the future to ensure you don’t find yourself in similar circumstances in your next job.

Sincerely,
Emily Anhalt

Emily Anhalt is a clinical psychologist who helps companies invest in their employees by bridging business and psychology.

Do you have a question about work life? Email us at workingit@ft.com and we’ll address your thorniest issues.

And let us know . . . 

With all the research I’ve just done on professional skills, I couldn’t help but think about my own, and whether or not I should be brushing up on anything. So, I’m curious, how do you keep up with the changing demands of your job and industry? What resources do you use to sharpen your skills?

You can write to me at sophia.smith@ft.com or tweet us at @FTWorkCareers and we’ll feature the best responses in a future edition.

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