Jobs for life? Is there even such a thing as a permanent job any more?

An interesting article from the CIPD last week suggested that “jobs for life” may not be over. I happen to disagree. “Jobs for life”, in the traditional sense, implied a degree of security, safety and contentment. Rather than this, I suspect what the CIPD’s research points to is an ominous rise in Corporate Prisoners – “people who stay in jobs they’d rather not be doing”.

The reasons they are staying are numerous and often not positive. They are more to do with restricted opportunity and economic pressures than engagement. Low turnover is, I agree with CIPD, likely to be a feature of UK plc for years to come. And with that comes an essential need to change our mindset away from the traditional “career ladder”.

CIPD’s own data suggests over 20% of UK workers want to change jobs within 12 months. Many will not have realised that objective. Chiumento data suggests that figure is even higher. So what does all that unrealised ambition equal? Somehow I doubt it is an increasingly happy, energetic and engaged workforce.

This whole issue has brought to the surface a question I’ve been mulling over for a while: “is there still such a thing as a permanent job?”

According to National Statistics 3,398,000 people were made redundant between Jan 2008 and December 2012. Many of them undoubtedly had a “permanent” job – which suddenly became oh so temporary. In our outplacement work we meet people all the time who have been shocked and stunned (and sometimes psychologically damaged) by the sudden end to their employment. Some definitely saw it coming – for many it was a bolt from the blue.

Many of the Chiumento team (including me) have been through redundancy. Long term redundancy can turn out to have unexpected, positive outcomes – even though at the time it is painful. I doubt I would ever have become a CEO if redundancy hadn’t made me consider what I really wanted – and the price I needed to pay to get it. Similarly delegates who come on Chiumento outplacement programmes also often go on to bigger, better and/or more rewarding careers.

Should our advice to people now be to work with the mindset that all jobs are inherently temporary? In career management terms that probably makes sense. The new world of work means that change is the only certainty. You can’t count on jobs lasting for ever and skills that are valuable today may not be valuable tomorrow. As someone commented to me recently “when did you last see a TV repair man?” In the 70’s they were everywhere.

It is a call to arms to keep yourself agile. We need to be learning and renewing our employment value all the time. And that means taking personal ownership for career development. We need to sustain and enhance our skills all the time. That way our temporary employment becomes more certain – if never genuinely permanent! Even if you never intend changing employer you need to constantly pay “the price to stay”.

Ian Gooden
Chief Executive