It is over 25 years since Charles Handy first introduced the concept of a portfolio career that’s defined by diversity of both role and industry.  Such careers don’t follow the traditional path up a career ladder within a particular function or company and may contain a combination of part-time, contract or temporary roles, with it often the case that people will have more than one job at a particular time.  Such careers are commonly undertaken as people strive for a better work-life balance.

We all have portfolio careers now

Portfolio careers have become more popular in recent years as achieving a better work-life balance has become more of a mainstream goal.  Forecasters have predicted that nearly half of us will have multiple employers by 2020. Some might argue the zero hour contract is a modern incarnation of the portfolio career, but I’d argue that a central tenet of the portfolio career is having control over ones work, and I’m not sure that’s the case in many zero hour contracts.

Careers in the networked age

A more recent interpretation of the portfolio career comes from Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn, and Ben Casnocha, the author of The Start up of You. As with the assertions of Charles Handy, they argue that the job for life is a thing of the past, with companies showing scant loyalty to employees.  A challenging economy means that career progression will be far from smooth, especially if analysts are correct when the say, by 2025 the majority of commercial organisations’ will only directly employ 15% of their current workforce. In such a world they recommend that we treat our careers like we would a startup.  We should be nimble, self-reliant, innovative, network effectively and stand out from the crowd.  No easy task, but these are behaviours and core competencies that can underpin the use of 21st century piecework, such as YunoJuno, Freelancer and TaskRabbit.

Working in an Age of Longevity

It’s estimated that new born babies today will live to 105, and thinkers such as Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott suggest that such a scenario requires a fundamental redesign of life.  They argue that if I wish to retire on a comfortable pension that I would need to work until I’m 80.  Whilst on one hand this sounds a scary concept, on the other it opens up the possibility of several new careers.

Age of entrepreneurial retirement

In the past, the innovator often hit their career peak at about the age of 40. Vivek Wadhwa studied 549 successful entrepreneurs in 12 high-growth industries and found that the average and median age at which they started their company was 40.  However if we recognise the challenge that we are all living longer and that 60 is the new 40, then it opens us up to the notion that entrepreneurialism will no longer be solely a young person’s game.  If you disconnect age from stage of life, suddenly you could be at university when you’re 70.  You could be doing a portfolio when you’re 20. You could be creating a start-up when you’re 60 or when you are 30.

When age is no longer a barrier, it opens us up to a whole lot of experimentation as we begin to design a life that is sustainable and fulfilling.  Hopefully, like me, you’ll find that an exciting prospect.