The “average” career path is no longer lifetime employment. Read what candidates, recruiters and educators need to know about jobs in the new economy.

Recently, I participated in an unsettling Twitter chat focused on career planning.

Usually, that’s not a controversial topic, but this particular discussion disturbed many participants. Why? Because we projected the number of jobs a typical Millennial will accumulate over the span of a career in our so-called “new economy.”

Do the Math

Consider these estimates from reputable sources:

  • By 2020, 40-50 percent of all income-producing work will be performed by short-term contractors, freelance workers and “supertemps.”
  • The length of a career already averages 48 years. By 2020, it will be 50+ years.
  • Today, the average time in service for a Millennial at any company is 2.6 years.

Admittedly, I’m not really good at math. But this data is pretty conclusive: At 2.6 years per job and over 50+ years in the workforce, with several temp assignments and contracts, GenY can expect to hold 20 to 25 jobs over the course of a career.

Here’s the problem — or, rather, several problems:

No One Told GenY

Those statistics genuinely scared #InternPro participants, most of whom are Millennials. No one had done the math. Plus, between parents, educators and old-school career experts, there seems to be a halo effect surrounding an old paradigm: lifetime employment.

Many Millennials seem to believe once they graduate and get that first job, their job search is effectively over. They’re unprepared for the fact that it’s really just the beginning of a continuous process. (Click here to Tweet this idea.)

Traditional Higher Education Hasn’t Noticed

Many higher education stalwarts — not exactly known for quickly adapting to changing economies and markets — still feature old-school theory taught by tenured professors who’ve never held a position outside academia. Instead of teaching the skills that will be in demand in the “freelance economy,” we’re still shoving 1970s courses and curriculum down the throats of unsuspecting students.

Higher education must change fundamentally. To remain relevant, academics must start emphasizing transferable, marketable career skills.

We Aren’t Entrepreneurial Enough

Successful supertemps, solopreneurs and freelancers rely on one skill above all else: entrepreneurism. Why? Because going forward, our livelihood depends on our ability to sell our skills, our value proposition and our niche — continuously.

In fact, with the average duration of a job search at about 40 weeks, there will almost never be a time when we’re not selling… us.

Old-School Recruiters Haven’t Adapted

It doesn’t help that recruiters still haven’t caught on. Old-school recruiters, unwilling to accept new workforce trends, discount job seekers whose resumes show they move every two to three years. They still consider this “job-hopping” — and many won’t interview candidates with this tendency, who are labeled “disloyal” and a “long-term risk.”

Here’s the reality: Between economic conditions, GenY’s penchant for moving on when they become restless or feel undervalued and the inevitable entrepreneurial spirit that is becoming pervasive among job seekers, recruiters who stick to this now antiquated “rule” will lose out on high-quality talent. In the meantime, their competitors will thrive.

Fasten Your Career Path Seatbelts

Without a doubt, our new economy is already here. Members of GenY who cling to old standards — through fear and/or influence by parents, higher education and recruiters — will clearly continue to struggle. They will continue to do as trained — and will continue looking for jobs that no longer exist.

However, young professionals who recognize the new workplace for what it is and learn the career skills required to win…

  • Strategic planning
  • Goal setting
  • Sales and digital marketing
  • Effective follow-up
  • Customer service
  • Integrity-based self-promotion

… will not only embrace the new economy; they will surround themselves with success.

What’s your reaction to the “average” career path of the future? How would you suggest Millennials prepare to manage their careers more successfully? Share your thoughts in the comments!

This post originally appeared on TalentCulture.

Mark Babbitt is CEO and Founder of YouTern and COO of Switch & Shift. He is a serial mentor, a keynote speaker and blogger, and is honored to have been named to GenJuice’s list of “Top 100 Most Desirable Mentors,” HR Examiner’s “Top 25 Trendspotters in HR” and CareerBliss’s “Top 10 Gen Y Career Experts.” Mark is currently working on two new books: A World Gone Social: How Business Must Adapt to Survive (AMACOM, June 2014) with Ted Coine, and The Ultimate Guide to Internships (And Making Your College Years Matter Again) (Allworth, September 2014).

TalentCulture is a vibrant open online community, driven by professionals who share a passion for innovation, collaboration and a desire to advance the world of work. Join their #TChat Events every Wednesday from 6:30 – 8:00 p.m. EST, or join the ongoing conversation anytime at #TChat on Twitter.


  1. Justin Beller

    I’m a Gen-X’er living that career path of Millennial. Over the last 10 to 12 years I’ve had almost as many jobs. I would suggest that Millennials think of themselves as their own company and their own brand. “You are the CEO of your life”, as one friend once told me. The thing to be aware of is there is no security in any job, whether it is a business you start yourself or if you go to work for someone else as an employee or a contractor. Know your strengths, know your passions, and chart your course around those. Above all, learn how to learn. Always be sharpening your skill set and picking up new skills along the way.

    • Kunsman

      Justin I agree completely. Indeed we are CEOs of our lives. We must take ownership of where we go and how we get there. Thanks for sharing Brazen careerist.

      • Justin Beller

        You’re welcome. It was probably the best advice I had ever received in recent years. Above all, people should never expect that others are going to look out for their best interests, especially employers. I know that is very cynical of me to say that, but wherever you work or wherever you are at in your career, you have to chart your course to reach your goals. Nobody is going to do that for you. Your best bet is to ask questions like, “How can I become a manager of this department?”, or “Where else in this company can I apply my skills?”

        Now that I think of it, I advise every millennial to read “The Dip” by Seth Godin. Great book to read in context to your career and it will put all of this into a better perspective.

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