Confused business man seeks a solution to the labyrinthThe idea of a career as a pre-determined and linear path is being challenged in many areas of working life.  An increasingly common experience is a changing set of mini-careers, like riding a carousel rather than climbing a ladder, where you get on and off at various times of your life.

At one end of the generational spectrum, young people are not staying long in the same place early in their careers.  Itchy feet caused by discomfort with the modern workplace, uninspiring jobs and work environments alongside disillusioned  lifers or a heightened sense that meaning matters more than money?

At the other end, older workers who have spent years in the same organisations and public institutions are either in survival mode, being made redundant or jumping ship into what they really wanted to do when they were younger.

Both scenarios mean coping with or embracing uncertainty.  Working longer or in multiple careers is likely to mean developing your T-shape – having a deeper understanding in at least one field, as well as familiarity with a broader range of disciplines.

In praise of generalists

Generalists have had a hard time of it over the years.  A career path that takes someone to different organisations, roles and types of work can be seen by a future employer as uncertain, unclear, reactive and lacking in ambition.  Yet, it might purely be down to whatever work someone can get because of market conditions.

Alternatively, it may have been a conscious choice by the individual who has either transferred their skills and capabilities to a different setting or sought a new challenge and learned new capabilities.  This is still very common in the UK Civil Service where many staff with long service move every 2 or 3 years for variety or interest, personal development or to freshen things up in that area and to allow other people opportunities.

In other words, their generalism is their specialism.  The obvious criticism is being the proverbial jack of all trades and master of none.  The reality in many cases is jack of all trades and master of many, building a breadth and depth of expertise that is built upon, re-visited or re-interpreted for the benefit of others in a virtuous spiral.

The transdisciplinary path

Transdisiplinarity is the jargon – literacy in and ability to understand concepts across multiple disciplines.  If you follow a transdisciplinary path, prospective employers will…

  • Have a candidate who is adaptable and committed to lifelong learning
  • Appreciate the broader contribution you will make compared to different job candidates
  • Have more options for deploying you

Employers want people who can speak the language of multi-disciplinary teams.  You can develop your contribution within a job by combining different experiences, mindsets and experiences to create a unique offering.

Your transdisciplinary contribution will help employers…

  • Enhance communication within and between multi-disciplinary teams
  • Gain different perspectives and blended solutions to complex problems

Developing and sustaining your employability is hard and a lifetime’s activity.  To navigate the uncharted waters of the coming decade, you will need to continually reassess the skills you need and quickly put together the right resources to develop and update these.

You will need to be adaptable lifelong learners as many of the jobs of the next few years have yet to be invented.  Today’s global problems cannot be solved by separate disciplines.  Having breadth and enough depth in a range of disciplines will sustain your employability.

What different disciplines have you already studied or experienced?  How can you leverage them to your advantage to give greater meaning to your working life?

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