In theory, landing your dream job shouldn’t be complicated. Nobody expects it to be easy, but the path is supposedly straightforward. You get an education that’s relevant to your chosen field, work hard, and steadily climb your way up to where you want to be.
Yet for the majority of employees, the career ladder is a myth. Getting an ideal position seems to be perpetually out of reach.
Even a good education is no longer a guarantee of success. Once, a degree was like the individual’s equivalent of a business sign made by a metal signage company: it set you apart and communicated professionalism and class. Now, though, graduating from college puts you in the same league as everybody else.
Where do these problems arise, and can they be fixed by addressing our system of education? Or does the impetus have to come from individuals?
A deep challenge
In recent years, there’s been a growing sense that modern education doesn’t adequately prepare students for the world of work. As the pace of development in technology accelerates, skills we learn in school are often incomplete or even obsolete by the time we hit the workforce. By 2030, an estimated 85% of students will be working in jobs that aren’t in existence yet.
This phenomenon is frustrating for all stakeholders. Students and their parents invest time and money under the assumption that a good education will lead to a better future. Society, as a whole, stands to benefit from the successful outcomes of each new generation.
Education, as a whole, could use some massive improvements. But the problem runs far deeper than that.
We teach the next generation based on lessons from the past. It’s difficult to evaluate how important something is until time and subsequent developments give it context. Especially for technology, we want to see if the latest software or devices will have staying power before integrating them into a curriculum.
Thus, education inherently plays catch-up, and students will always have to learn on the job. Moreover, the information age is leveling the playing field in most professions.
For generations now, families have placed increasing importance on education. More students graduate and compete against others with similar qualifications. It’s not that a degree holds no value, but it no longer makes you stand out.
Meanwhile, at the top of every work hierarchy, few plum positions go around, and professionals tend to stay there for longer.
These trends aren’t going to go away anytime soon. Improvements to education will take time to implement, and in any case, it will be too late for those who’ve already entered the workforce.
Part of the burden will always fall upon the individual. Many current employees discover that they will have to embrace continuous learning to build career capital and have a chance of taking their careers further.
Even so, this doesn’t necessarily solve the problem. After all, continued learning and self-improvement are things that everybody can work on. It’s like being engaged in an escalating arms race. You’ll still be competing against others who are doing the same in an attempt to get an edge.
What more people really need to be doing is creating the jobs they want. And doing so requires entrepreneurship.
Seeking to serve
Too many people are conditioned to be in an employment mindset. We ask our kids what they want to be, and often they choose from familiar occupations. Those goals may change over time, but they still study skills to meet a predefined checklist of requirements for a given job.
The information age can complicate this problem because we easily become swayed by the influence of social media and the internet. We tend to form cliques instead of communities. Our connections become narrow and exclusive.
To succeed, a business idea must serve a need. The challenges of becoming an entrepreneur can be greatly lessened if you’re in touch with your community. But you won’t know much about others’ needs if you are only focusing on improving your skills while interacting with those of like mind.
Working up to the desired position within established organizations will not work out for everyone. Those jobs are in high demand, with limited supply.
Create your dream job by starting a business. Train yourself to perceive the needs of a diverse group of people so that you will come up with solid ideas. Seek to be of service to your community, and you might find a better way to exercise agency and do purposeful work throughout your career.