The concept of portfolio careers has become something of a buzzword of late in response to an uncertain labour market. We are “taking back control” and are sticking our proverbial fingers into lots of proverbial pies to keep the home fires burning. Or at least, we are taking back the illusion of control.
It can be a positive thing. The portfolio career approach can allow the individual to step away from the hum drum 9-5 slog where each day morphs into the next, and instead offers the individual the opportunity to take on a collection of part-time roles that ensure they are never bored. If you are clever about the way you approach it, you will have a theme to your portfolio career, ensuring that each of your positions is connected in some way, so it “makes sense”.
I was at a conference a couple of years ago and the keynote presenter told us that we need to think of our careers as a table: we need four legs to maintain stability, but if we lost one leg, the other three will wobble together to keep the table upright while we seek to replace to missing leg and regain our job stability again. In this sense, portfolio careers are like minimising risk by diversifying the revenue streams.
I have a portfolio career myself, although I must admit to having put the pages of my collection together a little subconsciously, at least at first. I am first and foremost a careers practitioner, providing individual and outplacement support and training to clients. However, I was then asked if I would provide HR support services to a select few local organisations, which I now do. I then found myself doing guest lecture spots at CSU which led to tutoring a student and then marking business degree assignments as a casual academic. I am also the editor of Australian Career Practitioner magazine, published quarterly by the Career Development Association of Australia. This isn’t even including the volunteer work I do with regards to hosting business events, organising an annual career expo, speaking at local professional group meetings and so on. My career portfolio grew organically as new opportunities arose and I expanded my career plan to accommodate them.
One of the benefits of having a portfolio career is dipping your toe in the ocean of new ideas without committing to taking it on as a full-time job.
It also allows you to build experience in various aspects of the same industry or skill set which can enhance employability and future opportunities.
Furthermore, portfolio careers often give you more flexibility than you would have in a traditional career path which can be beneficial for parents, carers, work nomads, people living with mental health issues or people who appreciate a little more freedom in their work life.
However, for many of us, the portfolio career doesn’t paint this picture of vocational freedom – there is another side to the concept. The changes to our labour market have seen underemployment sky rocket to a 20-year high as people are trying to mottle together full-time hours across multiple part-time jobs. Many of these roles are freelance based or casual, which significantly impacts job stability and limits our ability to attain finance for major purchases like a car or a house.
We often have to play the hand that is dealt to us and for some of us portfolio careers provide us with a means to scoring goals. But the harsh reality is that for many of us, the rise in portfolio careers is symptomatic of a labour market where job security is no longer for sale.