The term career development represents a large body of theory and research that seeks to explain the structure and the development of career behavior, personal identity in work and other life roles, and factors that influence career decision making. Even though such a perspective on the functions of career development is accurate, it oversimplifies the complexity and the magnitude of the psychological and sociological content relevant to how individuals “construct” their careers across the life span. In particular, this perspective blurs the importance of the various political, economic, social, family, and other contextual factors that create the environments in which people choose, prepare for, and negotiate their work roles. Globalization is a contextual factor that is rapidly emerging in its power to shape the organization of work, how it is done, who does it, and where it is done.
Globalization tends to be at the center of what many scholars and journalists perceive to be a major shift in the nature of work and individual reactions to it. Indeed, globalization has spurred related language, including internationalization, international competition, global economy, and free trade zones (e.g., The European Union, the North American Free Trade Agreement), which are all relevant terms. They collectively signal that most of the nations of the world are in transition— politically, economically, and socially—and that the factors that underlie these transitions have placed education, jobs, employment and unemployment, careers, and interventions in career development high on the policy agendas of many nations, including the United States. These terms are growing rapidly in international importance because the citizens of nations in transition are typically subjected to increased stress; deficits in information about their options, underemployment, and productivity; unemployment; inadequate education; decreased productivity; anxiety; and uncertainty and sometimes dread and apprehension. Edwin Herr, Stanley Cramer, and Spencer Niles wrote in 2004 that although the specific factors that affect the career development of persons differ from nation to nation, they tend to share some commonalities, as unemployment rates remain very high in many nations; many persons across the world are denied basic rights to jobs, education, or independent decision making because of gender, racial, ageism, and other forms of discrimination; and changes in access and adjustment to work processes and expectations are occurring in many settings around the world.
Among many other observers, Alvin Toffler, in his trilogy of books, Future Shock, The Third Wave, and PowerShift: Knowledge, Wealth, and Violence at the Edge of the 21st Century, has consistently addressed the acceleration of change as a function of new economic structures created by the emergence of information-rich knowledge societies, replacing agricultural and industrial societies in the United States and in many other parts of the world. A parallel period of change drove the rise of vocational guidance and vocational counseling at the end of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century, as the United States moved from the agricultural era to the rapid changes spawned by the Industrial Revolution. Rapid changes are now spurring the refinement of and the search for new paradigms of career guidance, career counseling, and career services as a function of the transition from the industrial and manufacturing-dominated twentieth century to the “new economy” under way in the information-rich knowledge- and service-based global economic structure of the twenty-first century.
Dynamics of the Global Economy
The global economy is not just a new catchphrase; it is made possible because of a variety of other changes that have direct effects on careers. Perhaps the most significant is advanced technology. The popular press now talks about e-commerce, cyber society, the wired world, the global village, and other metaphors that essentially reinforce the axiom that a global economy could not be possible without computers, telecommunications, the Internet and the World Wide Web, fiber optics, digitization, satellites, and related technologies that advance national interdependence, global transactions, and communications. The outputs of advanced technologies flow around the world, unfettered by national political boundaries; electronic transfers can move more currency overnight to support business transactions of multinational corporations than many nations have as their total capital reserves; management of work, movement of inventories of products, and adjustments to customized production can be done 24 hours a day without regard to the time or space of the originating workplace; individuals in one worksite can use computers to monitor and manage the work being done at worksites thousands of miles away; through digitization and satellites, work that originates in the United States can be sent to Ireland, India, or other offshore locations to be downloaded, processed, uploaded, and returned to the originating site; and workers in one geographical site can plan, design, and troubleshoot the machines that are being computer directed at other sites around the world.
Such processes have many implications for careers. One is that computers, the Internet, telecommunications, and other advanced technological processes are functions of the interaction of science and technology. Given the intense competition for international markets and corporate economic rivalry, industry in the United States and in many other countries is committed to translating new scientific ideas as rapidly as possible into products or forms of technology that can be applied and exploited commercially. Through the use of advanced technologies, the historical time lags between scientific discoveries and their translation into new products, new tools, and new technologies have decreased in virtually all fields, from architecture to airplane design, construction, health care and medicine, financial management, and manufacturing.
Although the effects of globalization stimulate the continuous interaction of science and technology, such interactions can occur only if there are knowledge workers available who are able to adapt to the rapid changes in work processes and problems and apply new knowledge. It has become increasingly clear across nations that the primary asset of nations is not raw materials or even wealth but the quality of the workforce as defined by its literacy, numeracy, computer and communication skills, flexibility, and changeability. Peter Drucker, the international scholar of work organization and management, in conjunction with other scholars, contended that knowledge has replaced experience as the principal requisite for employment in most of the emerging occupations in the world. It has become clear that as more workplaces are seen as “learning organizations,” more jobs and organizations must be staffed by knowledge workers who know not only how to perform work tasks but also why. Currently, more than 60 percent of the United States workforce is made up of knowledge workers. Knowledge work is different from the patterns of repetitive actions that are present in traditional jobs; it is much more clearly described as a sequence of figurative dialogues between workers and the data they are using, whether monitoring and troubleshooting a computer-driven lathe or a robot, engaging in computer-aided design, diagnosing which computer module is not functioning in a automobile, or scanning the human body for evidence of disease.
Embedded in the growth of knowledge workers is the growing importance of lifelong learning and the reality that the skills of schooling and learning and the skills of the workplace are increasingly complementary and overlapping. In a knowledge economy, basic academic skills serve as the foundation knowledge for technical and occupational skills. Educational abilities and achievements become major elements of individual career development. This reality puts those who lack motivation for learning, minimal training, and a high school diploma at the risk of being permanently dislocated or constantly on the verge of being unemployed. In analyses of emerging occupations, it has become increasingly clear that few jobs are being created that do not require reading, the ability to use mathematics, and strong interpersonal skills. In this sense, mastery of basic academic skills has become a prerequisite for employability, for having personal flexibility in the workplace, and for lifelong learning.
In response to the implications that globalization accents knowledge and new ideas, the World Bank has argued that a global society requires workers who have mastered technical, interpersonal, and methodological skills. These skills encompass formal disciplines (e.g., foreign language, literacy, mathematics, and science); the ability to communicate, lead, and work with others; and the ability to participate in lifelong learning and to function within a context of risk and change.
The World Bank has further suggested that these forms of learning are teachable and that functioning in the knowledge economy requires three categories of competencies: acting autonomously, using tools interactively, and functioning in socially heterogeneous groups.
Other observers have suggested that the new status quo for workers is characterized by continuous learning and feeling “on the edge” or off-balance, as one is constantly expected to be prepared to adjust and adapt to the frequent transformations in the workplace, which are ongoing in the lives of workers immersed in a global knowledge economy.
Changing Language of Work
In this context, knowledge work is much more difficult than physical labor to classify and divide into small segments of action. As globalization spawns learning organizations and knowledge workers as major elements of the ability to compete internationally, scholars have argued that jobs as a way of organizing work are social artifacts that have outlived their usefulness. In this view, there will continue to be many types of work, but they will be organized differently than has been true during the past 100 years or so. Jobs as discrete packages of tasks or rigid position descriptions will likely be less frequent in the future than more flexible organizations of work.
These ideas have been transformed into current terms such as boundaryless careers and multitasking. Thus, jobs as clearly defined fixed sets of tasks, which have been central to the organization and language of work for approximately the past 100 years, are giving way to the effects of expectations by employers that workers should be able to engage in multitasking; get the work done that needs to be done regardless of the artificial boundaries of a specified set of tasks; be personally flexible and adaptable to change; and be comfortable with the hybridization of work (e.g., bionics, or the wedding of biology and electronics; geophysics, or geology and physics) in which the problems are so complex as to require knowledge of more than one discipline.
Changes in the Organization of Work
The perspectives associated with the global impact of how work is performed, the importance of learning, the pervasiveness of advanced technology in the workplace, multitasking, and related phenomena have led to a variety of important changes in the nature of work organizations, career paths, and workers’ responsibility to be their own career managers. It is important to acknowledge that individual development in most nations and in many organizations is no longer linear, predictable, long-term, or secure. The availability of lifelong employment in one firm, one corporation, one occupation, or one job is very unlikely for most people, even though a generation ago, many workers expected such a career pattern. They hoped to obtain employment in an organization, advance through its ranks, and retire. The phases of such a pattern—exploration, preparation, induction, consolidation, advancement, and retirement—were age related, understood, and anticipated. The goals of many workers were to successfully advance up an organizational chart as far as their talents and luck would take them. That view of career development is significantly less likely to occur in a rapidly changing global economy.
New Conceptions of Careers
In essence, the rapidity and intensity of change in the language and organization of work reflected in emerging career paths suggest new realities in the relationships between globalization and careers. For example, Michael Arthur, a British scholar, has suggested that a fundamental challenge for career theorists and practitioners is the need to affirm new career realities. He has argued that models of career development need to (a) be more dynamic in their accommodation of rapid change in the career paths available to individuals and (b) integrate career mobility rather than neglect it.
Underlying so many of the current conceptualizations of globalization and careers is the belief that new patterns of careers are taking place that are qualitatively different from those of the past. For example, researchers have argued that the changes in the way work is organized and structured have affected how notions of “new careers” need to be conceived in many nations, including the United States. They contend these new careers will be reflected in a much larger array of career patterns that will be less linear and more fragmented, with more frequent transitions than in the twentieth century.
Other scholars have suggested that people’s career paths will become a succession of ministages and short learning cycles, comprising sequential stages of exploration-trial-mastery-exit as they make transitions from one type of work to another. For example, the concept of protean careers accents the importance of individuals being able to constantly adapt to change, being personally flexible, and taking personal responsibility for their careers. Embedded in these perspectives is the view that although constancy and stability, or homeostasis, have frequently been cited in the psychological literature as desirable traits for individual growth and development, career planning and choice in the future are likely to be more spontaneous, more values oriented, and more influenced by environmental and organizational flux, unpredictability, and turbulence.
Another view of the effects of the global economy on the organization of work as it plays out in many nations is what Charles Handy has described as the “Shamrock organization.” This perspective speaks of a vast reconfiguration of the world of work. Heightened competition in the global marketplace is forcing companies to downsize their personnel to only those who represent the core tasks of the company: those whose skills are essential to the management, the provision of technical support, and the performance of the fundamental processes that produce the products or the services of the company.
The Shamrock organization discussed by Handy can be conceived of as three leafs, or rings, that begin with an inner and relatively small core, or circle of permanent workers. These workers with essential core skills are the ones who keep corporations functioning. They are paid well; have long-term identity with the company; receive health, educational, and retirement benefits; and receive training or support for lifelong learning.
The second ring of the workforce is occupied by temporary, part-time, or contingent workers whose time and skills are purchased as needed or on a seasonal basis. Handy calls these workers a “portfolio class,” persons who document and sell their skills in episodes to firms that need their services for specific projects or periods of time, rather than remaining in continuing relationships with the same organization. Such persons may have to work several part-time jobs simultaneously to have sufficient income or purchase the health and other benefits that their temporary employers do not supply.
The third ring is made up of persons employed by an outsourcing company that specializes in particular services, for example, custodial and maintenance, customized goods production, marketing, food-service catering, advertising, accounting, law, data entry, security, outplacement counseling, or transportation. These specialist firms can be contracted to provide workers prepared to perform specific tasks. Thus, the original corporation does not have to employ and pay the overhead rates to get these tasks done. The outsourcing company does all of that and delivers the end product, such as catered food, security, training, or advertising.
One of the newest perspectives on outsourcing is that such activity is not confined to transferring jobs within the United States. Rather, outsourcing and off-shoring are being combined. Outsourcing of jobs has become a global issue. European nations, Japan, and the United States are now engaged in job transfer to other nations. It has been widely chronicled that companies in the United States have shed large numbers of information-technology staffers, with many of these jobs being transferred to technology-rich facilities in Bangalore, Delhi, and other locations in India, where millions of world-class engineers, business and medical graduates, and other educated and competent persons are now participating in the U.S. new economy. These persons are having a major economic impact by developing new software applications for finance, digital appliances, and industrial plants; consulting on information technology, managing information technology networks, and re-engineering business processes; handling customer service complaints and processing insurance claims, loans, bookings, credit card bills, and airline reservations for U.S. employers; engaging in research and development for microprocessors and multimedia chips; doing research, U.S. tax returns, financial analysis, and accounting for U.S. investment banks, brokerages, and major accounting firms; doing research and development for U.S. manufacturers; and many other tasks. While China has acquired many of the offshore manufacturing jobs from U.S. companies, India has emphasized knowledge work and services work that will soon employ two-thirds of its workers.
It is currently estimated that 1 or 2 million U.S. jobs have been transferred offshore. This number represents a relatively small percentage of the total American workforce of nearly 140 million persons over 16 years of age. However, projections are that another 3 to 5 million jobs will be transferred offshore between 2004 and 2009 and that this trend will be an important issue for decades to come. This may be a conservative estimate, since, in addition to the visibility of outsourcing of jobs to China and India is the fact that many Caribbean nations, Ireland, Malaysia, the Philippines, and the West African nations of Ghana and Senegal are creating technology-rich facilities and educated populations capable of serving as outsource recipients for U.S. jobs.
The net effect of a three-ring configuration of the workforce is to remove what had been permanent jobs in many corporations and reassign them to part-time status or to other firms in the United States or overseas that subcontract to do specific tasks. Such processes literally force many U.S. workers, who would in earlier decades have been employed in large organizations functioning in various support roles, to become essentially self-employed managers of their own careers. They must constantly adapt to change and develop new skills that corporations are willing to purchase on a temporary basis or that outsourcing firms can purchase to subcontract to other organizations.
Labor Surplus and Skill Shortages
Globalization effects have another, less discussed impact on careers. Across the world, there is a surplus of labor, consisting of many well-educated and well-trained persons for whom there are not adequate opportunities to work in their own nations. At the same time, the United States is experiencing both skill shortages and an unemployment rate of about 5 percent. Within the global labor surplus, there is almost an unlimited supply of industrious and educated individuals working or willing to work at a fraction of U.S. wages. These persons naturally gravitate to the economic opportunities available in the United States, intensifying immigration at a level, even with visa controls, similar to the one that occurred 100 years ago at the height of the Industrial Revolution in the United States. These immigrants are more likely to come from Asia, Central America, or South America than from Europe; they are welcomed by employers because they bring skills that are in short supply in the U.S. population. Because of either lack of interest or information, workers in the United States have not chosen to explore many jobs in service, craft, or technical industries, which are often well paid and are essential to the production of goods and services. Government predictions are that these sectors will be the leaders in creating new jobs over the next 10 to 15 years.
Within this context, if qualified applicants are not available in the United States, the choice is to transfer jobs offshore or try to import immigrants with the skills needed. In recent years, U.S. corporations, health systems, and academic institutions have imported workers from other nations to work as tool-and-die makers, machinists, tractor-trailer drivers, nurses, physicians, mathematics and science teachers, scientists, and workers in other areas of skill shortages.
In both direct and indirect ways, globalization has affected the career paths available and the organization of work in the United States and in most other nations, has intensified international competition and encouraged employers to find ways to decrease their costs of production of goods and services, and has adopted advanced technology to increase productivity and decrease the number of workers necessary to perform the tasks essential to a particular workplace. In broad terms, the new work environments being created are shifting from preordained and linear, orderly structures, with clear guides for employee action and well-formed career paths, to perpetually changing career paths and possibilities in which uncertainty and flexibility are the order of the day and employees must make sense of their environments and plan their skill development and career paths accordingly.
A variety of implications for careers are embedded in the effects of globalization. They include the following:
Globalization has intensified the competition for jobs in many countries. Transferring jobs to other nations and immigration of well-trained persons affect which jobs are available and the competition for those jobs—and this, in turn, changes the career pathways available to citizens in the country from which the jobs were removed and also in the country that receives the jobs.
As specific jobs move offshore, the occupational structures are changed in the receiving country and in the country from which the jobs were transferred. In many instances, educational requirements in both nations rise, accelerating the importance of knowledge and skill, as opposed to experience, as requisites for employability.
Nations engaged in the global economy are constantly seeking comparative economic advantages by transforming their work organizations and processes through the use of advanced technologies, mergers, and consolidation of organizations; by expecting workers to constantly improve their skills; and by placing workforces in other nations with markets for products and services. From a career standpoint, these trends suggest that workers at almost every level of skill and in every industry must be familiar with and able to work with computers, telecommunications, and other advanced technologies; be strong communicators; be able to work with others in teams; have effective interpersonal skills, be willing to constantly develop new skills to enhance their employability, and, in many cases, be available for international assignments. Even though the primary language of the global economy is English, bilingual or multilingual skills are prized abilities for workers in multinational and many governmental organizations.
Work organizations are taking less responsibility for the careers of their workers. While many firms provide information about position vacancies, anticipated changes in work processes, and important skills, the expectation is that workers will be their own career managers, analyzing trends that will affect them, participating in lifelong learning, and committing themselves to engaging in the processes that will keep them employable.
Career paths are likely to become more horizontal than vertical in the future. As greater responsibility is given to workers or worker teams to manage quality control, make decisions about work processes, and share electronically transmitted information relevant to tasks for which they are responsible, it is likely that positions in middle management or senior management will be reduced in number. As more management tasks are invested in workers, the ability to problem-solve, to work with others, and to take responsibility for performing work that goes beyond one’s job description (multitask) will be important.
Career pathways will be more diversified and less institutionally based. A contingent workforce is rising around the world that includes temporary employees whose skills are purchased for limited periods of time and do not have long-term institutional identification. Such employment may involve part-time or self-employment or involvement with specialized outsourcing firms that supply employees to workplaces for limited periods of time to complete particular projects or sets of tasks.
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