Coping with Career Change

  • Sep 08, 2005
  • Vicky Smith
  • Career advancement

When I start working with a person who has lost their job, one of the first questions asked is what are you going to be looking for?  The answer usually is a stable, secure job that pays well and I can stay at till I retire.  Unfortunately, I can’t help these people because there is no such job available anymore.  What I can do is to coach them to understand that our work world has changed – not for the better or for the worse – work is just viewed differently in 2001 than it was in 1991.


The word ‘change’ is probably the most over-used and negatively received word.  Our lives never stay stagnate. When a blip - like losing a job happens, we view the situation as a glass of water half empty instead of half full. Nigel Williams, an international performance coach, states in his article ‘The Top Keys Towards Understanding & Coping With The Challenges Of Career & Personal Change’, “If the rate of change outside yourself is greater than the rate of change inside yourself, then the end is in sight.”  One of the main reasons people lose their jobs is obsolescence - either their skills are outdated or the processes of the company they work are outmoded and the company is forced to close down.


Man’s history is one of evolution yet when it touches us personally it’s difficult to be philosophical about losing one’s security.  Everyone reading this article has gone through job loss or knows someone who has. If it’s so prevalent why haven’t we learned how to embrace our new world of work? 


We have been taught many ways of coping in our lives but most of us have not been taught resilience.  We didn’t need to have resilience from 1950 – 1990 because generally we lived in a comfortable, stable environment.  Income, education and life style levels rose and working hard and being dependable opened wonderful opportunities for many people.  Then the 1990’s came and the world seemed to go topsy turvy.


A London Free Press article this year talked about 3M providing resilience training programs for their staff.  Training in resilience means “being capable to bounce back whether you’re going through stressful situations or not.  Demand for resilience training is growing, 3M and others say they are recognizing that resilience is critical in times of change.”


How can we develop resilience when faced with life changing situations?  The most important thing that needs to happen is the ‘blame game’ has to stop.  We are used to blaming government, management, unions, parents, teachers, or anyone else we can think of in authority for our predicament.  The reality is we are responsible for the situation we are in.  A friend of mine called this week in a panic to set up some time for career counselling.  He was very stressed because he has been laid-off and the future doesn’t look good.  For the past year or so, he has talked about things not going well at his company and he should be doing something about it. He did nothing till work slowed down.


The other key coping method most of us have not learned is flexibility.  Many people over 40 have learned computers kicking and screaming.  There are still people working today who are computer illiterate  - I see them every week.  Understanding what skills are needed to stay employed and then going out and learning them demonstrates flexibility.  This is crucial to stay working consistently.  Colin Campbell in ‘Where The Jobs Are – Career Survival for Canadians in the New Global Economy’ states, “The new global economy is knowledge-based and therein lies future job security…. People have again become assets.  The more they know, the more valuable they are.”


By continually building on your skill set, you create choices and this ensures your employability.  Employability means you will be consistently working but it probably will not be at the same job or company for more than 5 years.  Barbara Moses in ‘The Good News About Careers’ says “Whether you have a conventional full-time job, or are contingent, contract, or freelance worker, we are all living and working in TempWorld.  In TempWorld everything shifts rapidly.  Nothing is forever, everything is temporary:  where you work, what you do there, the skills you use, the people you work with.  In this fast-shifting world, there can be no guarantees attached to any particular job.  But there is much that you can do to insulate yourself from change and economic upheaval, by equipping yourself with the skills to manage your career more effectively.”


August is fast approaching and in August, brochures from Fanshawe and the University of Western Ontario Continuing Education programs will be out.  Do you know what your key skills are?  Do you know what your weaknesses are based on the current skills required by employers?  Nigel Williams states “You have a choice to be either a master of change or a victim of change.  You can be a creator of circumstances or you can be a helpless creature of circumstances.  You may consider this too harsh a statement, but reality and history tells us that it’s true.”