Portfolio careers: Learning how to do the hustle and thrive in globalization

June 19, 2009

Nervous American, British and other workers in Western or developed countries who either fear loosing their full-time jobs or have already lost theirs due to offshore outsourcing, need to realize that their outdated notions of work and what constitutes a career is fundamentally changing forever. In fact, they need to learn how to hustle because full-time employment (unless you work for a government bureaucracy) is on its way out while having a so-called “portfolio career” is in and this will continue to be the trend for the foreseeable future. 

In case you are not familiar with the term, a portfolio career is the act of simply having a “portfolio” of part-time jobs or freelance type “gigs” that amount to full time employment – something that artists, academics and even IT professionals have been doing for years. The term was first used by management guru Charles Handy back in 1984 who predicted that 50% of all jobs in the 21st century would be something other than full-time; in other words, part-time, temporary, flextime and self-employment type of work arrangements.

Now, flash forward to the 21st century and the idea of having a portfolio career is increasingly in the news and not just because of the recent economic downturn. In a 2006 article for the Guardian, Claire Adler asked why pick just one job when you could have two, or three? She pointed out that the days of fully-funded pension schemes that had encouraged long careers with the same company and early retirement were on the decline. Furthermore, some professionals were seeking ways of spending more time with their families while still having careers. On a similar note, Leon Gettler in Australia recently wrote an article for The Age (Portfolio career replaces jobs for life as baby boomers pay) where he noted that workers are increasingly volunteering to accept reduced work weeks in order to increase their leisure time while the shift to a service economy in the developed world now means that workers are less physically worn out at an early age (and hence, can engage in leisure type activities for a much longer period of time).

Other benefits of having a portfolio career were outlined in a recent piece by Judith Woods in the Telegraph where professionals with portfolio careers noted the benefits of having clients rather than bosses. However, drawbacks that were noted included zero tolerance for being late and missing deadlines for any reason and the need for excellent time management skills. In fact, it was noted that portfolio careers could easily lead to the same work life balance problems that are often associated with full time jobs.

Nevertheless, portfolio careers are increasingly the only option for many. Tina Brown, who coined the term “Giganomics,” recently wrote in her Daily Beast blog how the gig economy is taking hold among the demographic that always assumed that a degree from an elite school meant job security. In fact, after conducting a poll of 500 internet interviews last January, she concludes that everyone is a hustler now.

However, in a recent piece for Australia’s Courier Mail, Amanda Horswill (who used the nicer sounding term of “gigamatrons” to describe today’s new worker) did point out that some companies are starting to say no to “giggers” – just like they are starting to say no to outsourcing or offshoring certain critical functions. In fact, she quoted recruitment firm Hays as predicting that more jobs will start to go back in-house in order for companies to conserve cash, reduce external costs and become more efficient.

Hence, will the coming economic recovery slow or even reverse the trend towards portfolio careers? Only time will tell. Nevertheless, in a world with sinking economies and technology that allows labor arbitrage across borders, it is clear that everyone (especially those in the developed world) must learn how to be a hustler now.  


2 Responses to “Portfolio careers: Learning how to do the hustle and thrive in globalization”

  1. April on June 23rd, 2009 8:06 pm

    Pretty good post. I just came across your site and wanted to say
    that I’ve really enjoyed browsing your blog posts. Any way
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  2. Bem on July 1st, 2009 8:20 am

    I think in the future there will be more work for people who have multi-talent. For example if a marketing professional has sales skills then he can work both in marketing and sales groups. Bottom line any person who can add value to their customers either internal or external will thrive in global economy.

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