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The Changing Workplace: Non-Linear Careers

Dr. Greg Ketchum, 05/21/07

The What: If you’ve been a part of the American workplace over the past 20 years you know first hand that the only constant factor is change.  In order to keep you ahead of the “change curve,” this is the first in a series of segments that we’ll bring you entitled, “The Changing Workplace.” Today we’re going to talk about one particular change that is fairly new: “the non-linear career.” But first…

What is driving the rapid pace of change in the workplace? A variety of factors are responsible and three of the biggest are:


  • Drives the need for more education and skills for workers.
  • Geography is no longer a major factor. Can work from home.
  • Barriers to entry are lower. Little guys can compete with the big guys.

Looming Retirement of the Baby Boom Generation:

This is creating a demand for more skilled workers and employers are having to look at ways to keep some of those Boomers around.

Workers Demand for More Control:

Today’s workers are used to the flexibility that technology like the internet provides and expect that same flexibility at work. If companies don’t offer it, workers will go to companies that do.

Okay, so we understand some of the factors driving change, so let’s talk about the “non-linear career.” What does that mean?

The “Non-Linear Career:”

We’re used to the “linear” career, where one job leads to the next in an unbroken series of jobs. The “non-linear” career means that people can take time out from working, for example to have a family, or go back to school, and then re-enter the workforce.

Married Mothers: 

Let’s take married mothers as an example. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of married mothers in the workforce has fallen by 6%. The interesting fact is that they don’t stay out permanently, but on average, are away from the workplace for 2.2 years. Further, 93% of mothers who leave try to return to the labor force.

Has this led to any new services to help those women get back in? Yes.

  • Business Schools & Universities: Some are starting programs for folks that have been out of the workforce that are designed to bring their skills up to date.
  • Company Flexibility: We’re seeing more flexibility at companies in the form of flexible schedules, telecommuting and job sharing. Companies are also starting to view employees who leave as “alumni” and are developing programs to keep them in the “fold” and the door open for them to return.

This all sounds great Dr. Greg, but what does it mean for our viewers?

Carpe diem, Rob, Carpe diem. Seize the day. Even though this movement is in its infancy, make a pitch. Put together a proposal for your boss that allows for more job flexibility and be sure to make the business case. Increasingly, the direction of type of career or work-life you have is in your hands. You may not get all that you ask for, but as hockey great Wayne Gretzsky said, “You miss 100% of the shots that you don’t take.”


®2007 All rights reserved. Gregory A. Ketchum, Ph.D.

Career Advice

Dr. Greg is the “KRON 4 (San Francisco) Workplace and Career Expert”

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