Preparing for a career not a first job

This is a rerun of a 2013 post. I thought it worth rerunning because it describes well how one puts together a successful forty-year career in an economy where the nature of work is constantly changing. It is about a Michigan State student developing in Heather McGowan’s framing her career success operating system, not a first job ap. It is the antithesis of the kind of stackable credentials approach that is envisioned by the proposed Marshall Plan for Talent. Which is entirely ap focused, rather than operating system as the foundation of success careers.

For those wanting more on this topic see my 2014 Alma College commencement speech.

Here is the 2013 post.

Terrific blog on Spartans Helping Spartans by Eileen Lonergan. Its about how MSU prepared her for a career in an occupation that she didn’t know existed when she was in college. The post is titled: How I Used What I Learned To Build Something I Didn’t Even Know Would Exist. Lonergan writes:

When I graduated from Michigan State University in 1988 with a degree in Advertising, the last thing I expected was to one day own my own web design firm, handle search engine optimization and implement social media campaigns for clients all over the world.

The most important part of my education at MSU was in how it prepared me for a career that didn’t yet exist while I was on campus.  Throughout my four years there, I took classes that at the time were required or encouraged or simply fit in nicely with my schedule. I had no way of knowing at the time that the many art history classes I took would one day become very relevant in my life. I lived as an expatriate in London and Asia, seeing many great works in person and learning how art related to geography and history was fascinating.

… The exposure to ideas and technology provided me with the curiosity to want to continuously learn new things and instilled in me the confidence to put myself out there and try.  So, while I didn’t major in computer science and my niche didn’t exist when I was on campus, I thank MSU for the foundation I built as a student.

Longeran’s story is one repeated over and over again by those with four year degrees or more. The value of higher education is in developing broad skills –– including becoming a lifelong learner –– that are the foundation of successful forty year careers.

The push from policy makers and other thought leaders to demand that higher education prepare students for a job the day they graduate is not good either for students or the economy. Just as bad is the push to steer universities away from the liberal arts. Courses like art history, that proved so valuable to Longeran, are chronically on the list of so-called useless subjects that universities are increasingly pushed to deemphasize if not eliminate. Not smart!

Building a foundation to do well over a long career is only going to grow in value in an economy where technology and globalization accelerate creative destruction. Destroying jobs and occupations and creating new, unimaginable, jobs and occupations at a quicker and quicker pace.

As we describe it, successful careers will go to those who are good rock climbers, rather than ladder climbers. Those who are able both to constantly spot opportunities in a constantly changing world and have the agility to take advantage of those opportunities. Far different than career success in the past which were build around known and stable rungs of a career ladder.

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