Maybe it’s just me, but nostalgia’s only great for Comic Books, Baseball Gloves, Shortbread Cookie Recipes, and Toronto Maple Leaf fans! … Not Labour Market Expectations!
According to a Toronto Star report from Saturday, October 22, “Canadians should get used to so-called ‘job churn’ — short-term employment and a number of career changes in a person’s life.” And this isn’t just an editorial trying to be sensational; it’s come directly from Finance Minister Bill Morneau.
I find it fascinating that people seem so perplexed by this. If Canadians aren’t used to it, it’s because Canada is a young country with an extraordinarily contemporary history, holding on to a collective expectation that is far too nostalgic for the economic highlights of the past 70 years. The good news is, if history teaches us anything, we can handle this change and we already have, many times.
If we used historical events as a pop culture narrative to economic change, every 10 years it would seem, a new economic reality has been set. The 1920s were a huge boom of financial extravagance for the western hemisphere, though wealth was not as proportionately spread as it could have been had there been the same social consciousness that came upon society in the 1960s. The 1930s saw the economic collapse of the Great Depression, and that was only partly stopped when the 1940s brought WWII, the most destructive conflict in history that conveniently propped up and propelled the economies of Canada and the USA. True economic prosperity bloomed in the post-war 1950s and in the socially conscious movements of the 1960s with wealth greater and more evenly spread than it had ever been.
The ‘50s and ‘60s era is perhaps the economic dreamscape most longed for as growth was massive and jobs were plentiful – at least in Canada and the USA. By some estimates going as far back as the Roman Empire, baby boomers were the wealthiest demographic in the history of this planet. Oil and infrastructure woes slowed the 1970s, before Michael J. Fox and Ronald Regan slapped a number of silly movies and economic Band-Aid solutions down. This led to the hairspray-teased optimism of the 1980s, which crash-landed into the plaid mosh pit cynicism of the 1990s. This era was one of less boom and more ‘balance;’ some growth, some slowdown. From this point onward, little has changed, with economic growth in the western hemisphere and other G20 countries moving between some growth to some slowdown and back again.
However, if popular opinion is any gauge, the 40-year period inclusive of the 1950s and 1990s is the time most job seekers want to return to the most; and for good reason. However, as a society we may be conveniently forgetting that all of these times required adaptation from those in the labour markets of those differing periods. The changes in the labour market equate in 3 ways:
- How we adapt to the professions that are disappearing and the professions that are emerging
- How we balance our standard of living in times that are neither boom nor bust
- How contemporary society deals with change in the first place
On that last point regarding change: The labour market (as a vein to history as the main artery) has proven itself (as history has) to be all about change.
As a collective group of individuals in today’s workforce, we present as being more than ‘reserved’ when it comes to change. In fact, I believe we are downright scared. This is perhaps why Finance Minister Bill Morneau feels the need to ‘warn’ us of “job churn” – though he shouldn’t really need to; we just don’t read enough history anymore.
Of the past 70 years, only 20 of them were boom years, and before that it never really existed. Sure, it would be great to have those years back, but is that realistic? Perhaps the eternal optimist could spend more time being clever than nostalgic. The current “job churn” is easy to deal with when you know what decade you’re living in.
Here’s a few tips to bear in mind as you navigate the current labour market:
- Understand that if you refuse to be flexible with both your job search and the positions you wish to attain, you will flounder. Gone are the days (for the time being, and perhaps for a long time coming) when you can be what you want to be unless you make that happen for yourself. Finance Minister Bill Morneau is playing this right. He knows that politicians on all sides of the house will not succeed in returning us to the boom and ease of the 1960s. They will need us to be less dependent on politicians to save the day, and more dependent on ourselves. We will need to reinvent ourselves at every step. And if you want to make it big, you’ll need to be ahead of this curve by light years.
- Job churn will affect our standard of living and how we spend. There will be as much opportunity to make money if you look for it, but there won’t be as much economic surplus and stability. Simple changes like having one TV instead of three are where the successful, stable workers will make the right moves. Start simply – dinner out twice a month instead of five. We can no longer expect to own and spend as the baby boomers did. We will live well, but more likely as frugal as the war generation did, assuming you want savings for your retirement.
- Populist leaders the world over are already tapping into fear to buy votes as all of their promises seem to harken back to past eras. From Europe to the USA, the key word is halcyon, an adjective denoting a period of time in the past that was idyllically happy and peaceful. Unfortunately, few people seem to want to question this. I would argue that how we deal with change in the first place is at least as important as how we deal with what exactly those changes are.
- And the best advice: DON’T PANIC!
What seems to be missing is an understanding that the changes occurring in the Boom Times did scare people in those times as well. If you look to your career with the expectation that change is inevitable and replete with “short-term employment and a number of career changes,” then you’ve already won the battle against this fear. Ask yourself this question: How can I be more adaptable? In this you may be able to find the solution you need to survive contemporary history and this little trend called “job churn.”
To quote the late American writer and futurist, Alvin Toffler, “The illiterate of the 21st Century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”
Jason Douglas Smith is a Training Application Coordinator with The Career Foundation, and has successfully directed clients in not only developing personalized job search strategy plans, but in circumnavigating the rigorous demands of applications for retraining for those in need of skills enhancement. When not doing this, he can often be found reading, writing and barbecuing in his native Burlington.