• The Rise of the Portfolio Professional

  • portfolio

    Can you list the number of jobs that you have held?  I couldn’t. What about occupations? I’m not sure about that number either.

    Reviewing my career span, these are most of the occupations I’ve had, in no particular order:

    • the usual hospitality jobs in younger years
    • a painter’s labourer
    • an Executive Officer
    • a bookkeeper
    • a venetian blind cleaner and restorer
    • sold and project managed construction of modular homes
    • a research analyst in the real estate industry
    • a book retailer
    • operated a soft furnishing business
    • a civil celebrant,
    • an author,
    • various property development and advisory roles,
    • am currently a coach. 

    How does this equate to your working experience?

    If I thought carefully, there would probably be a few more roles in there as well. Not everyone has led the diverse working life that I have but current advice is that the average person will hold multiple jobs throughout their lifetime. This won’t be because of job hopping, but because changes in technology and lifestyle practices will see the demise or disappearance of some jobs and the emergence of others.  A worker today should be prepared to retrain at least once in their working life.

    Realistically, I don’t think that a doctor will undergo retraining to become a motor mechanic or vice versa although anything is possible if that is their choice. The changes may not be so dramatic but the concept of a job for life is fast disappearing. Equally, a permanent job is becoming the exception rather than the rule. New roles are offered as term-based contracts and there are more part-time and casual roles on offer.

    These are issues that are cross-generational, and can impact on anyone’s employment prospects. For some, this may be a working style of choice and for others a source of anxiety and insecurity. Those who embrace the varied work styles will enjoy the flexibility that it brings and the options to combine or interleave work with study, travel options, family commitments, or perhaps working on their own fledgling business interests. Those who are uncomfortable with not knowing what the future holds will justifiably be concerned about ongoing financial stability and the ability to forward plan. Securing a mortgage when casually employed or working on a fixed term contract can be a challenge.

    The question is, how can we best prepare ourselves for these changes? Marcus Letcher in his book on ‘Making Your Future Work’ talks about the concept of Modular Work.  He defines each source of income as being a work module, with each module an integral part of your own microcosmic enterprise. Income may be generated from part-time work sources, personal enterprises, and investments (hopefully).  There is a blended cash flow from the different modules.

    Letcher advocates modular work by choice as being flexible and adaptable and enabling the worker to take control over their life. It is interesting to note that Letcher wrote this book in 1997 (nearly two decades ago) and the evolution of work practices that he describes as leading to modular work practices have been consolidating over that time.

    Letcher didn’t come up with this notion. He based it on the definition that Charles Handy devised for Portfolio Careers, in 1994.  The concept has been taken up by those who study transitions and evolutions in the work place, and has even made it into the dictionary lexicon. I very much like the definition found on www.dictionary.com being ‘a tapestry of a variety of eclectic employment experiences’.

    The holder of a portfolio career does not have a job so much as have a ‘client’, which could be a challenging concept for the person who has been accustomed to the employer-employee relationship. Realistically, a portfolio worker will need some good networks, or an agent to take care of the personal marketing strategies and administrative skills that are required.

    For some years now, I have referred to my CV as my Professional Portfolio, for obvious reasons. It comprises various modules and there are a variety of skills that I can fall back on. Just as an artist can present a portfolio of artworks, I can present a portfolio of skills.

    Do you see yourself developing a portfolio or modular career?  Will this be a move that gives you greater flexibility and choice in how you structure the work-life balance, or something that you see as restricting your options?  What does it mean for you?

    Letcher, Marcus, 1997, Making Your Future Work, Pan Macmillan Australia, Sydney

    Handy, Charles, 1994,  The Empty Raincoat: making sense of the future, Random House, UK