New Realities at Work for College Graduates

By Tim Lutenski

     Over the past few years our society has undergone a true paradigm shift in the world of work.  The traditional vocational models of work, job, and career have been radically altered and there will continue to be dramatic, unforeseen changes taking place that will have a significant impact.  Perhaps no other segment of the population will feel this impact more than recent college graduates who are entering the world of work.  Often, when talking with these graduates, I suggest it is important to understand that "new realities" now exist which will have a powerful effect in terms of their adjustment into the modern work world.  An awareness of such realities can help them better understand and cope with ongoing changes and also enhance their ability to better position themselves to successfully function in the work environment.  For the career advisors and counselors who are assisting the recent college graduates (the "workers") entering the workforce, several of the more important new realities that I believe should be addressed include the following.

I.     Adopt a new perspective and viewpoint regarding the traditional job

  • The "job" is slowly disappearing and increasingly will not be part of future social or economic reality.
  • As the conditions that created jobs have dissipated (such as manufacturing and large organizations), so has the need to structure work as jobs.
  • The fundamental nature of the work structure has evolved so that its foundation is not built of jobs per se, but of specific work to be performed and related tasks completed.
  • Essentially, work can now be viewed in terms of employability rather than employment; this means a person must look for work that needs doing and effectively position him or herself so as to obtain that work (work which often is unlike the traditional job, in that it is not clearly defined, long lasting, or stable in nature).
  • It is to a worker's advantage to identify the competencies demanded by the new economy and adjust and adapt accordingly as requirements and circumstances change, since gradually the "job" is fading away.

II.      Identify new and unmet needs created by change

  • Change can relocate and/or reposition opportunities (both in terms of needs and desires) and also redefine how workers can best service these.
  • Workers must take proactive measures in locating and identifying needs (that are not yet being effectively and/or efficiently met) and then determine how they can best meet and service these.
  • Meeting such needs in turn often requires workers to use their work related skills in completely different or new ways.

III.       Develop and acquire new skills.

  • Actively engaging in ongoing lifelong learning is necessary to serve both short and long-term career needs.
  • Workers are in effect their own corporation and must be responsible for developing a comprehensive strategic plan for growth and success in the work world.
  • A focus on skills is a critical element in achieving growth and success and includes the following:
    • expanding skill sets (through continuing education and training)
    • determining generic transferable skills (that have tangible value and meet a business need)
    • identifying specific skill sets and strengths (as they relate to given work opportunities)
    • applying skills sets through work (that meets ongoing business needs and fluctuating work demands)
    • responding to work based challenges (by creatively and strategically utilizing the best strengths and skills)

IV.    Remain flexible and adaptable.

  • This means responding to the ongoing changes and demands of the work world as well as reinventing work so that it has personal relevance.
  • Workers must commit to going where jobs are located or where there is demand for work. This may mean re-locating, but could also mean building a portfolio career, accepting independent contractor assignments, starting your own business, telecommuting, job sharing, etc.
  • When looking at employment, workers should establish alternative plans and options (at least three) and place a strong focus and emphasis on areas of high competency, where they can best add value.
  • Base the best plan upon a foundation (knowing who you are and what you want to do in the world of work), but remain open to broader work opportunities and be flexible in assuming a broader range of job tasks.

V.      Write, develop, and continuously update a key message.

  • It is critical that today's worker be able to quickly summarize in a concise manner who they are, what they do, and what they are capable of doing.
  • This is the added value proposition workers bring into a work situation or with a prospective employer, summarizing how they will make a contribution, play a meaningful role, and meet work needs.
  • A worker's key message should include:
    • Name, title, and type of work that is performed
    • Experience and most important and relevant work skills
    • When and where the best work was done
    • Main reasons to be hired, obtain work, or be worth the effort to get to know
    • Proposing a next step and action to be taken
  • Remember to update the content of this message, as well as review and practice it.

      More than ever, college graduates entering the workforce today are responsible for developing a career while simultaneously incorporating continuous changes in the work world that occur, which they must anticipate and respond to.  "Careers" and "work" today generally encompass many jobs and work situations and there are any number of "new realities" that must be faced.  The new worker must keep abreast of and deal with these new realities in a proactive fashion by effectively preparing themselves, organizing their luck, and taking advantage of opportunities.  Understanding fundamental new realities as they apply to the world of work is an important component in enhancing the effectiveness of career choices and decision making, and can play a significant role in helping ensure future career success and happiness. 


Tim Lutenski is an Instructional Specialist at St. Clair County Community College (Port Huron, MI) and the Director of For Your Career.  He teaches courses, workshops, and seminars, coordinates training in career and educational planning, and provides coaching and consultation services.  Tim works with individuals, groups, and organizations dealing with career issues, and volunteers in providing career guidance to those with special needs, including ex-offenders, survivors of domestic violence, and the homeless.  He can be reached through his web site at www.foryourcareer.com or via email at info@foryourcareer.com.

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