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20 jobs in one career could soon be the norm

How long have you been working at your present job?

According to recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median number of years that wage- and-salary employees have been at their current jobs is 4.6 years. About 30 percent of male workers and 28 percent of female workers have been with their present employer for 10 or more years.

But such steady ties to a single employer are rapidly fraying. One reason for that are the kinds of jobs being created now and in the future, and the education they require.

For instance, a report by the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) finds a rising education gap, with higher-educated workers finding themselves in growing demand. In advancing economies, the report projects that "demand for high-skill labor is now growing faster than supply, while demand for low-skill labor remains weak."

That report also predicts that, as the global labor force grows, by the end of this decade only 13 percent of the jobs that require college or postgraduate degrees worldwide will be filled, a gap of up to 40 million workers. Developing economies are likely to have 45 million too few workers with secondary education, although the world oversupply of workers with only basic education will rise to around 95 million.

"All the jobs being created increasingly require some form of high-skill or formal education in the areas of science and technology, and we're not generating enough working-age adults, as well as enough educated working-age adults," said Dan Finnigan, CEO of Jobvite, a Web-based job recruitment platform based in a San Francisco suburb. "And as a result, we will have a shortage of labor."

And this labor shortage, coupled with economic, demographic and generational changes, is changing how employees relate to their places of work.

Finnigan noted that people entering with workforce following World War II held, on average, four jobs during their entire working career. The average number of jobs for baby boomers during a work career is between seven and eight. But for people now graduating college, the number of jobs they're expected to hold during their work careers has jumped to between 15 and 20.

One big game-changer is how companies have approached their workforces over the past several decades.

"In every recession since the '70s, the higher and higher percentage of cost savings came from laying people off," said Finnigan. "And in 2008, we had a massive reduction in the workforce that has severed any kind of ties between workers and their companies."

Workers, therefore, "feel they have to build their career on their own," he added, "so they're always working, and working to find new opportunities."

The number of new job fields likely to be created in the coming years and decades is also growing. So, learning an established and unchanging skill set, Finnigan said, will probably lead to a dead-end career. The educated workers who will do well are those who can learn easily while adapting to change.

The people who are and will be in demand, Finnigan added, aren't just looking for better salaries but are also "looking to find different skills that makes them more valuable in the marketplace. And if a company cannot offer its employees career path growth, they're going to go get it themselves and build their own career. And that's the new normal."

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