Posted by: doug308 | September 8, 2011

One-Company Careers Are Yesteryear

Tuesday, Apr. 06 2010

Not so long ago, landing a job with a big St. Louis company was a ticket to a long and lucrative career. These days, it’s just as likely to be a limited-time engagement. Tom Braun learned about the changing nature of work the hard way. After 14 years in various technology jobs at Enterprise Rent-A-Car, he appeared to be on the traditional gold-watch career path. Enterprise, after all, rarely laid anyone off. Then, about a year and a half ago, that changed. Braun was among 200 employees let go in Enterprise’s biggest-ever downsizing. After a 10-month search, he was lucky enough to land a contract position at another big St. Louis company, Express Scripts. That proved to be short-lived, however: Three months later, he got his second pink slip. Braun, age 54, recently landed a contract position at Monsanto and is enthusiastic about the new job but vows to keep his job-search skills up to date. “You almost have to be in marketing mode all the time,” he says. “I never would have thought like that before.” The recession has made Braun’s story all too common, but the lesson he learned will remain valid when hiring picks up again. In this era of outsourcing, restructuring and global competition, no job lasts forever. Blair Forlaw, vice president for talent development at the Regional Chamber and Growth Association, says some employers don’t even talk anymore about hiring people or filling jobs. They talk instead about sourcing talent. Depending on the need, that might mean using a temp agency or a contract worker instead of hiring a full-time employee. The trend is most apparent in Braun’s field, information technology, but it’s spreading to other occupations. “Maybe this recession was the final death throes of the industrial model of employment,” Forlaw observes. If so, then all workers need to learn the lessons that Braun learned the hard way: Keep your skills sharp and seek out opportunities to learn new things. Network with fellow professionals so you have some idea of where to find your next gig. During Braun’s stints of unemployment, he pursued training and certification opportunities that would help him advertise his skills to employers. He found Bounce Back, a networking group that Forlaw runs, to be especially helpful.

“If I have one message for folks who are out of work, it is, ‘Don’t do it alone,'” Braun says. “I know some people who just shut down, didn’t network or anything, and most of them are still unemployed.”

Corporate America’s new labor-sourcing ethos contains lessons for civic leaders, too. One is that the region needs a web of networking groups, like Bounce Back and the United Way’s Go! Network, to help laid-off professionals find opportunities without leaving town. Another lesson is that, in a traditional big-company place like St. Louis, people will need help adjusting to a world where temporary or contract positions are more common than permanent job offers. “Ideally, we’ll have our systems aligned with these new forms of work,” Forlaw says. “The educational system will be helping to prepare people for new kinds of careers, and talented people will be accepting and even eager for new kinds of opportunities.” For many veteran workers, the reality she’s describing will sound harsh and undesirable. As Braun learned, however, it’s better to embrace the inevitable than to long for the way things used to be.


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