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The Cambridge Dictionaries Online defines a portfolio career as both “the fact of having several part-time jobs at once, rather than one full-time job” and “the fact of having a series of jobs, each for a short time, rather than one job for a long time”. This means that the employee has multiple part time jobs that can be combined to be the equivalent of a full time job, instead of one full time job. A portfolio can include part time employment, freelancing, interim/temporary jobs, and contract jobs.
Handy had predicted the portfolio career stating that the idea of employees working several jobs instead of one job would result from changes in the labor market. So long as the amount of income was enough, the employees would get job satisfaction from doing a variety of jobs, tailored to suit individual needs. The last 50 years have seen big changes in the labor market. The workforce is more gender balanced than it was previously, the workforce is more educated and better skilled. Globalization has increased competition between organizations and they seek talent more than they seek mere workers.
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The labour market is changing as stable, long-term career security is becoming a thing of the past. Career security in modern times is about ‘framing relationships among, work, organizations, payment, and value for effort’.Specialized vocational training has led to highly skilled workers. The society has also changed as people become more individualized; seeking individual pleasure as opposed to doing what is required to earn a living. People are no longer doing jobs just to meet their needs, but are seeking jobs that help them attain to self-fulfillment and self-actualization. It has been argued that there is need to rethink the nature of careers and career development, as ‘changes in society, changes in the nature of work and changes in the employment relationship’ has led to a change in how people view employment.
Additionally, legislation, globalization and specialization to exploit niche markets forced organization to focus on their core activities while leaving the non-core, though critical aspects, to consultancies. Consultancies performed those tasks better than the company could since the particular task was their core business. The effect of the freedom to pursue personal skills, interest, talents, combined with the market demand for consultancy/specialized services has led to people seeking less structured employment, thus the portfolio of careers model. This model involves a “succession of overlapping, flexible positions that over time provide income, job satisfaction, and (perhaps most importantly) opportunities to practice and learn new skills” that prepare workers for the next step in their careers.
The development of the phenomenon could be a result of changing attitudes to work from different generations. The older generations worked primarily to meet their needs and for social welfare, but the younger generations pursue personal interest since ‘enjoying work and getting paid for it’ is a critical consideration in choosing employment. Older generations considered work a lifeline, but younger generations consider work a means of self-expression first, and a source of livelihood after. However, business graduates should objectively consider the repercussions of choosing a portfolio career. This is because the portfolio career employee loses out on traditional employment benefits such as paid vacations, redundancy pay, sick pay, retirement plans, life and health insurance.
Globalization has also led to a turbulent and insecure job market where there is no permanent job especially due to recession, uncertainty and increasing unemployment. For employees to be free of the fear of losing their livelihoods, they opt to choose employment options over which they have some level of control. A portfolio career enables people to eliminate this fear. However, the portfolio career has disadvantages such as exhaustion, loss of interest in the main employment (which in most cases pays the most bills), and over commitment of oneself to work. Moreover, it is not for everyone.
Additionally, employees may seek a portfolio career to escape job insecurity, but it too comes with a level of uncertainty. Challenges such as deciding on which jobs to seek, difficulty finding suitable employment, difficulty finding employers willing to accommodate personal requirements/timelines, managing efforts of different jobs, and attending to all the competing demands on one’s time. This means the employee has to make considerable effort in networking and self-marketing in order to have a client/employer base that assures them of a certain amount of income per month. This leaves people at the mercy of the employer, and results in low pay and insecurity.
While a portfolio career enables employees to utilize a variety of skills and pursue a variety of interests, it is not a feasible option for all subject areas and ages. Studies conducted on the trends in emerging career forms have concluded that there is ‘more evidence of push from the organization than the intrinsic pull of portfolio working’. This means that the nature of job and organization where one works determine to a large extent how one views their career choices. Organizations and jobs where people are allowed to pursue personal interests and exploit their potential will have less people opting for a portfolio career than those where the office politics, micromanagement and lack of expression make up the organization culture.
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The area of specialization may also call for complete focus on that particular area thus scientists may not pursue other career options due to the limited time available for extra work. Additionally, younger people do not really know what they want and what they are best suited for in terms of careers. Therefore dabbling in multiple careers at a young age may leave one a confused jack of all trades and a master of none. From experience of the portfolio careerists, the most un-enjoyable jobs are the ones that pay most, while the most ‘fun’ pay the least though provides more job satisfaction.
In conclusion, despite the emerging portfolio career trend, every business graduate must be completely aware of their strengths and weaknesses before deciding on what sort of employment to pursue. The portfolio career has its advantages but each business graduate should try traditional employment before dabbling in multiple jobs. This will help the graduates to make informed decisions about their career development.
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