Since the 1950s, Japan’s labor markets have been characterized by several distinctive features. Perhaps the most notable among them is “lifetime employment,” the practice at large firms of hiring workers directly out of school and retaining them until a mandatory retirement age (originally age 55, now around 60 for most companies).
Lifetime employment used to mean staying with a company until retirement. However, as the workplace has evolved, few workers are interested in staying at a single company until retirement. The chart below shows how dramatically this effect has played out in different countries around the world (with Americans staying on average only 4 years per job).
The question of lifetime employment has therefore shifted to the possibility of being employed (at any company) until expected retirement. The challenge of staying relevant in the workforce has been exacerbated by concerns over the rapid shift of manufacturing and service sector jobs to lower wage regions around the world.
What can you do to stay employed, and not become a victim of these dynamic shifts in the global economy?
For my answer, I build on my three fundamental strategy beliefs, which focused on what companies needed to do to be sustainable over time. I think it’s equally relevant to the employee. Thus:
- Customers always choose the best available
- The best is always changing
- Only employees capable of change are sustainable.
In simple terms, your company can’t guarantee you a job, your government cannot, not your union rep, nor your boss. Only customers guarantee employment, and only so while you are creating value for that customer.
- Who is your customer? Today? In the future?
- What does that customer want? Will want?
- What skills are implied by the current customer needs and how will they change over time?
To stay relevant and experience lifetime employment, you must have answers to these questions and a personal development plan that allows you to change faster than your customers (employers) are changing. That I argue is the only way to ensure you have lifetime employment!