DO YOU know that in the near future, the average working person in Singapore will be doing a career marathon?

With the retirement age due to rise to 67, the average person can expect to work at least 42 years, if not more, assuming he started work at 25 or earlier.

Going by trends in recent history, it is clear that the employment landscape will change every few years. In the future, these transformations will become even more frequent. The consequence is that each of us will have to plan, strategise, manage and develop our respective careers constantly to remain employable.

With hardly any employer offering lifetime employment, the responsibility of career planning will have to be borne by each individual. The average person can expect to make several career transitions during his or her working life.

These transitions may range from switching industries and even moving from one country to another to remain employed. It will not be unusual for a person to go through a dozen or more jobs during his or her lifetime. Some of these changes may even include a complete professional shift.

The key to making a successful transition is being aware of changes and trends, and continually reviewing if your skills need upgrading.

In addition, you need resourcefulness and resolve to research the appropriate courses to take (and if you can get training grants) and obtain qualifications to enable you to seize available work opportunities. You have to constantly monitor changes taking place in the employment environment and the opportunities out there.

Some people even take an extended break from work to attend a study or re-training programme ranging from six months to as long as three years. Taking an advanced diploma or a further degree is increasingly becoming commonplace.

This will require financial planning to fund your course and living expenses during this period of withdrawal from the workforce. Family support and understanding will be critical. Those who are frugal and resourceful will do well in making these transitions smoothly.


The halfway mark

Let us look at a typical example of a person in his mid- to late-40s. He is at the halfway mark of the career “marathon” — the point where most of us have the heaviest family responsibilities and are financial stretched.

His children may be close to the age for admission to tertiary institutions and his parents are likely to be in their seventies or older. If they have a chronic illness, caring for them can be very stressful, and this may impact his career.

Researchers in life planning have identified this as the most demanding period in a person’s economic, working and family life. So it is wise to make any radical career changes in your late thirties or even before to avoid the stress of the mid-forties to deal with career and family related issues concurrently.

Some financial planning and strategising may also help you to weather the financial demands of the mid-forties.

You can then schedule the next career transition for the early to mid-fifties to help you to coast past 67 to even 70. Avoid juggling major career transitions, shifts or challenges and greater family responsibilities simultaneously if you can help it.

However, if you are working in an industry or profession where change is even more rapid, you may need to plan on a different timeframe to make major transitions to ensure the stress and conflict of the career and daily living is minimal.


Staying relevant

An important part of your career marathon is planning for skills upgrading, and short courses to ensure you remain relevant in your current job. Going to work in the second and coming decades of the 21st century is not simply about showing up and just doing your job.

With the end of lifelong employment, you have to take ownership of your career, manage and develop it to keep up with the times and changing opportunities. Lifelong learning becomes an imperative for continued employability.

The career marathon is one that all of us must run to earn a livelihood to maintain our lifestyle, pay our bills and enjoy the occasional luxury that life can offer. Unlike our forefathers and parents who could generally count on lifetime employment, employers no longer offer employment security. Even their business is not secure with global competition.

Employment security only comes to those who plan well to remain employable and relevant by being prepared for changing employment opportunities and engaging in lifelong learning.


Article by Kamal Kant, a part-time lecturer in Careers, Employment Relations and Management at Nanyang Technological University and SIM Global Education. He conducts career workshops and career coaches in his spare time.