Students joining the 21st Century workforce face an occupational world literally unrecognizable to their parents’ generation. Industries, organizations, management and employees around the world are now interconnected in a truly Global Economy; a network that seems to ignore or subordinate geographic, political and even cultural differences for better or worse.
Globalization has flattened the world (as author Thomas Friedman said) by enabling quicker and less-restricted flow of products, services, labor, capital and ideas across now-invisible borders (Sigala & Christou 2006).
Globalization may be held simultaneously as good, bad and (occasionally) ugly, but it is undeniable that it is the dominant economic, political and social paradigm of our time. By and large, trade barriers are coming down; and new allies and competitors, markets, merchants and Maniacs are increasingly part of our vocational and social lives.
Hand-in-hand with globalization are death-of-distance technologies such as the Internet, cell phones and other mediums that now enable a significant number of the world‘s population instant access to markets halfway around the world with a push of a button.
Of course, technology wizardry isn‘t confined to blinking, buzzing communication gizmos and emerging mega- innovations including (and stemming from) Nanotechnology, the Human Genome Project (Bio-Informatics), the Green Wave, Robotics and others will fundamentally alter the landscape of 21st Century careers and marketplaces.
The world is also finding unprecedented political, legal, economic and social considerations molding the new careers and the new modus operandi of conducting business.
For example, what are the security terror risks physical and cyber of operating in a post 9/11 world? What are the economic costs and opportunities of aligning ourselves (by country, industry, etc.) with mutually agreed upon environmental constraints (i.e., global warming)?
What are the intellectual property risks associated with lower trade barriers; for example, how do companies protect patents and trade secrets when we appeal to (or are exposed to) wider audiences? Finally, although people‘s inherent values may not change, our priorities and preferences do.
As a result, people in industrialized (and many emerging) countries throughout the world are seeking more and different ways to express themselves through their work. Thus we find fascinating lifestyle vocational trends emphasizing fun, aesthetics, practicality and other soft benefits (Sigala & Christou 2006).
We also find people increasing demanding vocationally related programs that enhance their quality of life by incorporating recreation, service, and other mind-body heart activities.
Even the work environment isn‘t immune from this, as ergonomic and other human factor designs attempt to create a working space that‘s not only optimized for form, fit and function, but makes employees feel better, enjoy their colleagues more and be more productive.
The following 10 Global Trends attempt to capture the collective impact of all these factors upon 21st Century careers. While guessing the future is always tricky (and usually wrong!), it‘s certainly easier to do when individuals can observe certain major trends already underway.
As such, it is safe to say that no matter how this future unfolds, we can feel fairly confident that: The careers and industries of tomorrow (note: these are already here, now) will look nothing like today. This applies to both the new jobs as well as significantly changed traditional jobs.
Despite economic cycles (and the current deep recession), certain transformational mega-industries will create millions of new jobs representing trillions of dollars of commerce or service. Many of these fields are already experiencing rapid growth, and some are actually predicted to eclipse the IT explosion of the late 20th Century in their potential market and employment.
As large centralized work environments or corporate hierarchies are becoming more the exception than the norm, career seekers will increasingly need to know how to plan, manage and communicate via multisensory/multi-learning mediums incorporating audio, video, text, kinesthetic and experience; and entrepreneurship and leadership strategies more attuned to dynamic, decentralized, outsourced, collaborative and competitive work environments.
North American students entering the workforce will be connected either directly or indirectly with people all over the world. Success or failure (as companies, organizations and individuals) is directly related to how aware, informed and connected we are to these global partners and forces (Waddock 2007).
Success will result from not only mastering one‘s vocational and cross-cultural communication skills, but in the ability to leverage completely new ways of doing business.
The combination of dropping test scores (math, science), geographic illiteracy, and aggressive globalized competitors places North American society at risk, with potentially serious impacts upon our standard of living and our ability to influence the global political and economic community.
While the risk is formidable and due to many systemic factors, it is reversible if education, industry, government and other civic institutions (and parents) are co-operatively engaged in providing forward-thinking, real-world curricula.
A perfect storm of converging trends such as globalization, communication technologies, environmental threats and shifting social priorities is creating unprecedented opportunities and challenges for the career seekers (or career changers) of the 21st Century. However, there are many ways that young professionals and students can cost-effectively and pro-actively to prepare themselves for fuller immersion in this new vocational world.
Sigala, M. & Christou, E. (2006). Global trends and challenges in services. Georgia: Emerald Group Publishing.
Waddock, S. (2007). Leadership integrity in a fractured knowledge world. Academy of management learning & education, vol. 6, No. 4, 543-557.