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Adapting to Change through Non-linear Career Paths

Growing up, most of us were sold a dream of what our careers would be like – by our families, teachers, etc. The idea was always to finish school, go to college and get a degree, find our ideal job, and work our way up there.

It seems like a simple, linear path to success. However, this traditional view of achievement and what careers should be like doesn’t match up with most people’s experience nowadays. More commonly, professionals now adhere to non-linear career paths, wherein they may transition between roles, companies, or even occupations several times.

A Changing Society

This shift from linear to non-linear career paths resulted from a growing disconnect between the traditional career path and the economic and social environment we live in today. Simply put, following a linear career path is no longer a viable option for most individuals in our current society.

For one, workplaces have changed significantly over the past few decades, for example, with the introduction of part-time and temporary work, changes to employees’ and employers’ rights, and a shift in values. When we consider the labor market today, we can see how unpredictable and complicated it has become.

However, these alterations didn’t occur in a vacuum; rather, they’re a natural result of the wider changes that affected our society, from financial crises to major social reforms and scientific and technological progress.

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Nowadays, we have a much wider vision of our society as a result of globalization. A crucial component of that has been the notion of a global network, where we’re all connected and physical barriers become increasingly less important. 

As a result, within the world of work, people today not only need to compete with other professionals in their city or country but also with people from all over the world.

A major contributing factor in all of this has been technology. With constant technological development, we have changed the way we operate, even in relation to our jobs. Technology has become a fundamental part of our lives and how a lot of us communicate, work, and learn.

While technological development and globalization have contributed to an increase in competition and work demand, they also helped create new opportunities and flexibility. So even if today you will likely have to work harder than ever to stand out when you apply for a job and even when you’re already working, you’ll also have more chances to educate yourself and learn new skills and trades.

Even if you follow a traditional career path and stick with one job at a specific company or organization, to move up in the ranks or even to maintain a given position, learning new skills is essential.

No matter what, the world is constantly changing, and workers need to be the ones to adapt to new challenges so that they remain valuable. If previously, the most important characteristic in an employee was loyalty, today it is adaptability.

Even if you think you may be impervious to change, keep in mind that no matter how much we strive to adapt to the ever-changing world of work, none of us can control some factors like the economy. As we’re currently seeing with the escalation of the war in Ukraine, even the most influential countries in the world have fragile economies that can be deeply affected according to the global climate.

Inevitably, that affects workers in such a manner that may make career changes inescapable, even for the most adaptable individuals. So how can we deal with this?

Accepting Change

Whether it be by choice or not, most people will go through career changes. These can include changes such as career breaks, switching roles, moving to a different company, or even transitioning to a different occupation. According to research on the matter, that has become increasingly more common in recent years.

The fact is that, even if you don’t want to switch routes, sometimes you will have to. Changes, interruptions, and setbacks have become common for most people throughout their careers, even if they’d rather stick to the comfortable plan that they set out early on.

It can be daunting to realize that the idea a lot of us had of a linear career path doesn’t apply to most people anymore. Even so, rather than simply looking at this as a challenge, we can choose to see it as an opportunity as well.

In a constantly changing world, as some roles become obsolete, new ones are often created. Along with it, the demand for different skills also shifts. As such, making career transitions doesn’t just become a natural progression in a given field, but also something incredibly beneficial to enrich one’s skill set and therefore, employability.

There’s even the possibility that people are forced to move into new and better roles as these are created.

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For example, 30 years ago people couldn’t imagine we’d have the internet and jobs revolving around it and yet, this has become a common career path. For those that invested time early on to learn about the internet, explore it, and develop skills related to this new area, transitioning to roles like web design was likely made easier.

Today we can’t even begin to fathom what opportunities are out there in the world and that may still be created in the future, so focusing exclusively on a linear career path can shut us out from changes that could boost our careers and improve our lives.

In fact, many people today opt for non-linear career paths themselves, making their transitions as they see fit. It may be hard to fully understand what leads people to choose this route rather than the security of a fixed job, especially for students and professionals at the start of their careers. Nevertheless, many reasons can lead people towards a non-linear career path.

Firstly, people may simply have curiosity about a different role, company, or area, or want to gain new skills that they feel could later benefit them. Some people inclusively feel that professional transitions help them make faster and more significant advances in their careers.

Alternatively, professionals may not feel fulfilled in their role or in the organization they work at, and as such decide to transition to a different job that may fit better with their professional expectations and personal life. Some may even make these changes as their priorities and values shift, and they find employment options that better suit them.

One example of this, which has become particularly significant since the lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic, was an increased desire to work remotely. Many people found that working from home was beneficial on several levels, particularly as it allowed them to save money and time and, for some, to spend more time with their families. As this became more of a priority and people understood that remote work could be an option for them, they opted to transition to companies and roles that allow them to work completely remotely or on a hybrid system.

For a lot of people, non-linear career paths became a way to assume more individual control of their professional development and their employability.

When you stick to one specific job in a given company, this is oftentimes almost entirely dependent on your employer and their needs. So even if you wish to branch out and learn new skills, if your employer finds that training you in that sense won’t bring any benefit to them, you likely won’t have that opportunity. Conversely, if you opt for a more flexible route for your career, you can shift towards jobs that either provide you with the opportunity to gain your desired skills or that leave you with room to upskill yourself in your own time, perhaps even by going back to formal education.

Finally, for young people entering the workforce, a non-linear career path can be very beneficial as it gives them space to explore their areas of interest.

According to research on this topic, career exploration is extremely helpful in creating professional goals and ultimately making career decisions, leading to better outcomes for individuals.

Studies have found that, in general, most people end up following this exploratory path eventually; it can just be easier for individuals if they opt to do so earlier on in their careers.

STEAM in AI College Prep Program

With the topic of career exploration in mind, if you’re currently in high school and wish to begin exploring your options now, you should consider taking part in the STEAM in AI Research and Build Program.

Designed to provide students with guidance as they explore their topics of interest, the STEAM in AI Mentoring Program matches each student with a STEAM professional that will mentor them throughout the process of designing and developing a project of their choosing.

By connecting with a professional working in your field of interest, you’ll get the chance to find out more about that area, the career options that may be available, and how they function.

Further, the program has been designed to provide you with a realistic experience of what working in a particular field is like as you develop your project. As such, you can think of this as a way to freely explore your options with limited risk.

Finally, as you go through the program, you’ll gain skills and knowledge that you can use down the line, even if you don’t pursue a career in the field your project was inserted in.

The Power of Development

If you choose a non-linear career path you’ll have to constantly adapt to new roles, organizations, or even fields, depending on the changes you decide to make. Whatever journey you select, even if it involves working in wildly different areas, will have common threads that link your experiences. These can demonstrate your development.

At the very least, as you move through jobs, you’ll develop transferable skills, which in essence are general and common enough that they are useful in most working environments. For example, you’ll likely develop skills such as resilience, management, organization, or communication.

Transferable skills are necessary at different levels for every role in every industry and so, even if you’re transitioning between jobs in two completely different areas and don’t have much applicable experience, you’ll still benefit from having these skills.

Conversely, you may also choose a linear career but that will still require you to learn new skills and acquire more knowledge as you work and move through each step. Even if you are in the same organization throughout your entire career, adaptability is still necessary to keep track of your field and your responsibilities within it.

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No matter what career path you end up on, one aspect you’ll always have to focus on is personal and professional development.

Considering the climate in our society, you also don’t want to just focus on building skills applicable only to a specific job; rather, you should always strive to refresh and update your knowledge and skill set, both at specific and general levels.

In a society that is constantly evolving, the main aspects to focus on are putting less pressure on ourselves, accepting that change is inevitable, and most importantly, always aiming at improving ourselves so that we can meet the challenges we’ll eventually have to face during our careers.

If you’re in high school, consider joining the STEAM in AI Mentoring Program to help kickstart this journey. Through the guidance of a STEAM professional, you could gain valuable experience and knowledge for your future. To find out more information about this opportunity, explore our website or book a consultation here. If you wish to register, click here.

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