There are six major trends that are going to determine the careers of graduates in the 21st century:
- Shortening of the life cycle of organizations and businesses.
- From life-long full-time employment to short term, contractual, project-based engagements
- From teaching to learning
- From knowledge acquisition to enterprising creativity and innovation
- From management to leadership. From managed employees to self-driven autonomous decision makers.
- From choosing a career vision to choosing your purpose
1. Shortening of Life Cycle of Organizations and Businesses
The significance of this trend is that when you start your career in a particular discipline, you should expect to learn a new specialization every five years or so during your professional career. Hence, you should undertake studies with an open mind. No subject is unimportant or irrelevant to your future direction of the career. Real life situations are so complex that you need to have knowledge from many different areas to make sensible decisions. Your learning curve should not flatten.
I often see students who want to go into marketing but do not pay attention to finance, thinking that it is irrelevant to their specialization area. Those going in for computer science often do not take seriously management courses thinking that management is unrelated to their specialization. Business students, likewise, often think that social science courses are irrelevant. They are ignoring that a seemingly irrelevant subject may turn out to be the very area where future potential is. Who knows what a graduate may be doing 20 years hence!
2. From Life-Long Employment to Short-Term Engagements
- See also: Why Job Security?
Significance of this trend is that you need to be mentally prepared to redesign your specialization every few years. Each student should be preparing for becoming an entrepreneur or consultant with skills to work independently. A consultant today is expected to be a marketer, salesman, accountant, financial analyst, manager, web designer, and a strategist all rolled into one along with whatever is his distinctive expertise. Look closely and you will see that even senior executives are processing their own emails (a task previously done by their secretaries), answering calls and sending sms. They are also conducting bank transactions online (a task typically done by peons previously) as well as maintaining their own personal websites/linked-in accounts, and are also conducting other professional activities online. They now require expertise of tools that were earlier only the domain of specialists such as maintaining web presence, making short videos, maintaining blogs, etc. These tools are becoming essential for promoting web presence, expertise, and linkages on social and professional networks. These linkages are going to be helpful in obtaining better project assignments and opportunities.
A few days ago a friend of mine who was my class fellow during engineering and who had been working with Siemens for over 25 years and then with some other big names in electrical engineering, was discussing with me how to position himself as a consultant and he was also thinking of doing some teaching. I recommended to him that he needs to design the next ten to fifteen years of his professional life as a consultant operating from a university platform for which he should be thinking of doing an MPhil and PhD. I told him that there are at least two PhD faculty members at our institution who had recently completed their PhDs at 60 years of age in a part-time capacity, and a couple of others who are post 60 years of age and are pursuing their PhD!
3. From Teaching to Learning
Once you complete your university education, you would no longer have the luxury to go for an extensive re-education as a full-time student for a new technology or a new career. You would most probably be doing this learning on your own or in a part-time capacity.
- See also: How Education System is Promoting Non-Readers and “Functional Illiteracy”: Top Ten Reasons
You need to be able to learn from the books and other resources on your own. You need to be a voracious reader. You need to be subscribing to some carefully selected blogs that would open your mind with interesting and new information. We often forget that we don’t study for a degree, we “read” for the degree. Unfortunately, in Pakistan students are not reading on their own. In USA with a population of 300 million the number of books being published in a year were 450 million. In Pakistan, the number of books getting published are no more than a few lacs. When I hear the excuse people often offer that they are too busy in their work, I ask them whether they are more busy than the president of USA, and then I tell them George Bush was reading 20+ books in a year during his presidential years !
You also need to be a writer. Each one of you should have a blog wherein you collect all of your writings and thoughts in a formal manner. This is the place where you will highlight the projects that you have undertaken, the learning you have achieved, and interesting things that you would like the world to know. For example, this talk that I am giving is already there on my blog. You can also see that some of the thoughts that I am telling you in this post are described by other detailed posts on this blog.
- See also: How Readers are Created. Ecosystem that Produces Readers – New!
Every few years a new technology and new device and a new way of working would be presenting to you. You need to learn it on your own. Life in your comfort zone is no longer going to be an option. You need to be on the move, learning new things, exploring new worlds and venturing where no one has gone before. This is the age of discovery, adventure, thrill of being on your own in a brave new world.
4. From Knowledge Acquisition to Enterprising Creativity and Innovation
The other prerequisite for creativity and innovation is not to have a fear of failure. When Edison was asked whether he was discouraged when he failed several hundred times in his attempt to invent the light bulb, he replied that he did not because he always considered each failure a necessary step of the process of creating the light bulb; the process of creating a light bulb consisted of several hundred steps (failures). Each failure is a learning. Each setback measures your resolve to succeed. Entrepreneurs are not afraid of making mistakes. But, once a mistake is made, they learn from it and ensure that they never again make the same mistake twice.
5. From Management to Leadership
What is the difference between management and leadership? A manager is controlled extrinsically and is also responsible to control those under him. A leader however is intrinsically motivated. He does not require external stimuli to work. He does not need to be told what to do. He knows where he is going, where the organization is going and he proactively works in taking the organization and people in the direction that is a win-win situation for all.
As students and graduates you should understand that no boss likes telling the subordinate every little bit that needs to be done every day. You need to develop initiative and adopt a proactive approach. Leadership is a huge subject and several posts on this blog detail its various aspects.
There are three competencies of a leader that are necessary to inspire the followers on the path towards the destination . These competencies serve as a beacon of hope and encouragement for the followers to overcome the hardships likely to be encountered on the way. These are (i) the loftiness of vision (nigah-buland), (ii) heart-touching communication (sukhan dil-nawaz) and (iii) passionate soul (jan pur-soz) with empathy.
6. From Choosing a Career Vision to Choosing your Purpose
To make sense of this fast changing world you can no longer define yourself in terms of things, or jobs or careers. Each one of them may be vastly different in a few years from what you see today. Your rooting, should therefore be in something that will not change so that it can provide stability and can help you in retaining your sanity and equanimity .
The only anchor now remaining for you is your purpose of life or mission. This is the only thing that would give you meaning and would provide you a root and a pivot around which you can design your future changes. From vision to purpose is a trend sweeping across management literature and can be seen from books by Stephen Covey  and Jim Collins  and other management gurus.
Purpose is determined by passion, and mission of your life is determined by a goal higher than yourself. You can only remain motivated throughout your life if you have universal principles guiding you. As mentioned by Stephen Covey in his excellent book “Principle Centered Leadership”, some people are parents-centered, some are friends-centered, some are gadgets-centered or things-centered and some are self-centered. Each one of these centers can not survive for long as your pivot and anchor. Parents grow old and eventually leave this world, friend grow apart, gadgets and cars and things and clothes become obsolete the day they are bought, as you find out that there is always a better model/fad for every thing. Your youth, beauty and vanity will all fade. The only thing that keeps you from being disappointed in this life is your rooting and anchor in universal principles. These principles never become obsolete, they never get old, and they never fade. They have remained for ever and would remain for ever. These are the principles on which you should anchor your life.
These universal principles include among others integrity, honesty, and fairness. This is the time for you to get yourself anchored in these universal principles for developing a principles centered leadership :
Lastly remember that your purpose of life should be anchored in the purpose of education for which you have come here. This includes to spread light every where and remove darkness from the world. Your objective is not just to illuminate your household but also to illuminate the entire world .
Delivered as Orientation Speech for new students at IoBM on September 5, 2015.
 Built to Last by Jim Collins, 1994, HarperBusiness
 Nokia: The Rise and Fall of the Mobile Giant, http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-23947212
 How Encyclopedia Britannica Was Blown To Bits, http://capitalismmagazine.com/2000/12/how-encyclopedia-britannica-was-blown-to-bits/
 Only the Paranoid Survive by Andy Grove, Doubleday, 1996
 Steve Jobs Commencement Speech at Stanford 2005
 Job Hopping Is the ‘New Normal’ for Millennials: Three Ways to Prevent a Human Resource Nightmare, Forbes, Aug 14, 2012
 Nine (9) Dimensions of Ethical Leadership, syedirfanhyder.blogspot.com
 George W. Bush as an Avid Reader, Richard Cohen, Washington Post, Dec 30, 2008.
 Of Hanafi School of Marketing, Orientation of New Students and Dr Matin A Khan, syedirfanhyder.blogspot.com
 Big Data, Management Transformation and Voyager of Star Trek Movie by Irfan Hyder, http://syedirfanhyder.blogspot.com/2014/11/big-data-management-transformation-and.html
 Future Shock by Alvin Toffler, Random House, 1970.
 Principles Centered Leadership by Stephen Covey, Franklin Covey, Simon and Schuster, 1992
 Why Education and Why Higher Education by Irfan Hyder, syedirfanhyder.blogspot.com
 How our Education System is Producing Non-Readers and Functional Illiterates
 Urdu couplets are of Iqbal. Pictures of Iqbal’s couplets are from iqbalurdu.blogspot.com
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- Why Education and Why Higher Education: Leadership in Life and Society
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- What Inspires Me: Leadership Against All Odds
- Entrepreneurial Leadership for 21st Century
- Why Job Security?
- Four Legacies of a Leader: Which one would you leave behind?
- Values Based Leadership
- Myth: We are Backward because we Lag Behind in Science and Technology
- Why we Choose Job Security and Job Safety
- Why this current urgency about visions and entrepreneurship