The 21st Century Professional: Navigating the Changing World of Work

The world of work is changing, and whether it scares or excites you, one thing is for certain: you shouldn’t be surprised if your job doesn’t exist in two decades. Many people are fearful of the changing workforce because it means uncertainty, foreign technology, and possible unemployment. However, the recent Fast Company article “The Career of the Future Doesn’t Include A 20-Year Plan. It’s More Like Four,” shows change can be positive, and something you should expect more of in your career.

In the article, Anya Kamentz profiles three different kinds of professionals who have held a variety of positions, and predict more in their future. Adam Hasler, 28, has moved from taking over a coffeehouse to learning programming and applying to MIT over the last 5 years. Cheryl Edmonds, 61, received her avionics training for an Air Force reservist in 1976, was an engineer at IBM, taught English in China, and now works at a non-profit. Stacy Brown-Philpot, 36, earned her undergrad in economics, worked for Goldman Sachs, got her MBA from Stanford, worked with startups for free, and ended up at Google. All three of these workers have the same attitude about their careers: they want to keep learning and growing.

But, you might wonder, isn’t it a liability to have multiple spurts of short-term employment on your resume? Not necessarily. New employers are considering short-term employment a benefit if it falls in one of two categories, according to Judy Gilbert, director of “people operation’s” at Google’s YouTube: One, the change is due to them being promoted within the company, or two, the change shows an intention behind their leaving a job, such as they grew out of the company because they needed a challenge.

The professional of the past might have looked for a comfy position they could be in until retirement, but the new professional has the following skills to make them more movable and desirable:

  • Transdisciplinary: A “T-shaped” person with both depth in one subject and breadth in another can be hirable in multiple jobs. For instance, Adam Hasler is fluent in Spanish and has strong computational skills.
  • Synthesizing and collaborating: These people can take their knowledge from multiple areas and collaborate with a team to learn even more.
  • Dynamic: Because the jobs of the future don’t exist yet, employers want to hire people who can adjust to new tasks.

Much of the change and uncertainty in the careers of the future will be due to technological advances, but it’s not quite the time to worry about a computer taking over your job. The advantage humans still have over computers is social intelligence, and these are the skills the employers of the future will be looking for. “[In the future,] everything that can be routinized, codified, and dissected will eventually be done by machines,” says Marina Gorbis at the Institute for the Future. “Social and emotional intelligence is what humans are uniquely good at–at least for the next decade or two.”

  • How can you be an agent of change for you own interests and abilities? How can you create your own career opportunities?
  • How can you be flexible and embrace work which is both difficult and personally challenging?
  • How can you be an academic and career coach for others based on what you yourself have learned?



“The Career Of the Future Doesn’t Include A 20-Year Plan. It’s More Like Four,” by Anya Kamentz. 9 January 2012. Fast Company. Accessed on 11 January 2012.

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