by Jay Block
Protean Careers. Get used to the term, for it's here to stay.
Better yet, we had all better get used to the concept of Protean Careers. Indeed, the American workplace has changed forever; and this transformation is presenting significant problems for many who have come to depend upon the "Industrial Age" workplace. The "Protean" workplace is the only viable solution to the transformational shift away from employers taking care of employees, to employees taking care of themselves.
Many factors have contributed to this workplace shift including technology, outsourcing as a result of less expensive labor provided by countries that were freed from the shackles of communism such as Hungary, Romania, The Czech Republic, and many more. In fact, there were 1.8 billion new inductees into the free-market system in the early 1990s. You see, it's not just China and India. Another factor has to do with the deepest recession we've experienced since the Great Depression, where the bursting of the pre-recession housing and stock market bubbles has shrunk the wealth of the average American household by an estimated 20 percent. Workers have no job security or jobs/careers for life anymore. There are no guaranteed weekly paychecks, benefits, employer-provided retirement plans, paid vacation time, or even a job on any given day. Big companies are eating up little ones, entire industries are disappearing, and American companies are manufacturing less and less year after year.
The Protean Solution
It is clear that we can no longer place all our eggs (financial future and quality of life) in one basket... with one employer; one boss; and one source of income. The Protean Solution is a process where the individual monitors and assesses the job market (present and future), and develops the skills, qualifications, and necessary talents to thrive in an ever-changing workplace; an ever-changing global world. This process requires lifelong education/management, multiple streams of income, an entrepreneurial approach to all areas of work, and versatility never required since the industrial revolution; if ever.
Proteus: The Mythical Greek Sea God
Why Proteus? Proteus was the mythical Greek sea god; the son of Poseidon, who was best known for two primary strengths:
- He was able to foretell/predict the future and
- He was able to change, adapt, and acclimate himself to successfully meet and thrive in the future that he envisioned.
In today's transformational, global economy and workplace, individuals must have the strengths of Proteus; thus, the term Protean Career.
A Societal SHIFT is Required
If we are to successfully survive and thrive in today's and tomorrow's workplace, we need to be part of an overall societal overhaul. Schools, colleges and universities still prepare students for one career; but the top 10 in-demand jobs today weren't even jobs in 2004. How can we prepare students for one career when most will hold four to five or more in their lifetime?
For starters, we need to encourage individuals to turn off the TV, as a lifestyle, and initiate individual enterprises to supplement other streams of income. And we need all sectors of society to collaborate and quickly address viable and sustainable solutions.
Government is Not an Answer
If individuals are unable to depend on business for their financial well-being and stability, they will naturally turn to another source for dependency... the government. But the federal government is broke. Most states are broke. And as we become more indifferent, apathetic, and slothful -- individually and as a society -- other nations and peoples of those nations that are "hungrier" than ever, will succeed while America recedes. Our future, as we know it, is in jeopardy.
The Proteus Solution is the solution.
Though this is a comprehensive and still evolving concept, below are five starter solutions. You must:
1. Embrace and be committed to change
No doubt, it's difficult if not impossible to get anyone to do anything if he or she doesn't want to do it. So if you want to survive and thrive in this new transformational workplace, you must embrace and be committed to changing yourself first, so everything will change for you (for the better). This begins transformation with taking personal responsibility for your future.
2. Add more value to your job every day: become in invaluable asset
If you are employed, and if you arrive at work the same as you left the day before, you will be "worth less" to your company and to the marketplace. Individual responsibility means learning new skills, gaining new knowledge, bringing more value to the job, and giving a greater effort every day.
3. Develop multiple streams of income
We have already discussed the dangers of placing all your eggs in one basket; depending on one company, one boss, one client -- one anything. If that one source of income dries up, is taken away, or for any reason is gone... you place your future, short-term, long-term, or both, at risk. A finite number of jobs may be available, but an infinite number of opportunities are waiting for people to tap into. Even with a full-time job, you can discover Web-based businesses that you can start for little capital with lucrative returns. A few examples include eBay, service companies (resume writing, research, teaching a class, etc.), and blogs (get enough people to the blog, and you can sell advertising). Today you must be ready to mix full-time jobs with part-time jobs; or work at multiple part time jobs, or have a full-time and part-time job along with an affiliate marketing opportunity. The bottom line is clear... you must have numerous income sources. [Editor's note: See also our article, Portfolio Careers: Creating a Career of Multiple Part-Time Jobs.]
4. Become an independent entrepreneur
Become your own boss and create your own job. You don't have to buy a McDonald's or Starbucks franchise. Start you own little hamburger joint or coffee shop. Add a new twist and provide unparalleled levels of service. Become an electrician, plumber, or both. Start a pressure-cleaning or painting company -- a one-person show. Someone years ago told me that he teaches kids to buy two bicycles -- one to ride and one to rent. Profits, he said, are better than wages. If capitalism is to survive and thrive in America, the creative, ingenious, and resourceful independent entrepreneur will need to reemerge. We can't all work for Wal-Mart.
5. Live within your means
In the famous book by George Clason, The Richest Man in Babylon, the formula for financial success is based on this: Spend only 70 percent of your net (take-home) income, save 25 percent, and give 5 percent to charity. The new reality is that individuals, companies, and the government will have to start "going on a diet" and live within their means.
It is not a cliche to say that the "world is in a transformational state socially and economically." The impact this change is having, and will continue to have, on the workplace including employers, employees, and job seekers, is unprecedented. Protean Careers is the future. Dependency on employers is the past -- gone forever. Responsibility for one's career has shifted to the individual. No, it won't be an entirely comfortable or smooth transition for many. But for those who are ready and willing to put their future -- their destiny -- in their own hands, change their thinking, and work harder and smarter than ever before... unlimited opportunities and an extraordinary quality of life awaits them. Individual creativity will soar. Individual achievement will remerge. No longer will individual potential be limited by corporate mandates. But this shift will come with a price -- for those who continue to seek security and comfort where there is no longer any security or comfort.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker's Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
This article is part of Job Action Day 2010.