Careers advice: Developing your 21st century career

21 June 2019

In this blog Sonja Stockton, Alumni Careers Manager at WBS, explores how you can develop your 21st century career and how the job market has evolved in the 21st century, from the emergence of AI, to flatter organisations and the aging workforce.

Rewarding graduate careers used to hold a pure and simple truth; get hired as a bright new graduate into an entry level role and then steadily climb the corporate ladder, developing and refining a core skill set until retirement. Graduate programmes were later introduced to complement this model to better identify the pool of specialists or generalists to fill appropriate leadership pipelines. This simple progression model enabled organisations to develop and progress individuals in a planned and controlled way and those who fell into the familiar bottom left hand box of so many 9 box talent management grids stayed until retirement or left.

Today this model of a ladder-like career is disappearing. We have seen organisations becoming flatter, working in matrix teams often remotely, an aging workforce, the new skills of the tech savvy gen z,and now more than ever before the use of AI replacing transactional human tasks. To quote a familiar adage, the only constant then is change as skills become obsolete and a very different career line of sight is being drawn.

LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, cited in Catch the Wave by Josh Bersin, believes that careers are now simply ‘tours of duty’ with LinkedIn research showing that on average new degree holders have twice as many jobs in the 5 years post graduation than they did in 1980s.

So what does this mean for a 21st century career? In Deloitte’s Human Capital Trends Report 2018, 21st century careers are described as follows:  

“In 21st century, careers are no longer narrowly defined by jobs and skills but through experiences and learning agility. The on-going transformation of work, the need for people and organisations to constantly upgrade capabilities, and shifts in employee preferences demand new approaches to learning, job design, performance management and career development”.

Deloitte defines this new career as a series of developmental experiences each offering a person the opportunity to acquire new skills; progression and promotion will be at various not set points of times, more of an upward arc than a step ladder path.

With 61% of jobs being redesigned around artificial intelligence (Deloitte) robotics and new business models, automation will have a major impact on job roles and have a huge impact on the skills needed to succeed in a 21st century career. Automation taking over roles for example in coding, enabling machines to pair with skilled cross-disciplinary thinkers to innovate and deliver services. The demand for data analysts growing to provide the essential human touch of analysis, extrapolation, and communication.

In the Deloitte Survey cited above, over 11,000 Business and HR Leaders globally identified complex problem solving and cognitive ability as most needed capabilities of the future. Core technical skills will remain strong but Deloitte’s report suggests STEAM  will replace STEM with A for Arts communication and social skills, interpretation and creativity, blended skills which are not purely technical.

I think it fair to say that anyone embarking on a ‘tour of duty’ would require the necessary skills of peripheral vision, surveying the landscape for opportunities or distractions, sharp focus, mental agility and a holistic skillset able to marshal the necessary resources to deliver the objective. How’s your ‘training’ going to develop your 21st-century career?

For more support with any career-related issue, please don't hesitate to contact the WBS CareersPlus team via or for alumni.