Career Life-cycle and Generational Professional Development

NJohnsonBy: Nora Johnson, SMMP Services Specialist, Experient

As the current economy rambles on, many individuals – and perhaps you – have revisited their current professional status. Even for those who may not feel their jobs are at risk, there is a more visible drive to grow, refresh or rebuild skills, knowledge, networks and more.

There are many models developed to represent career life-cycles and potential career paths. These cycles may include being a new hire, being promoted, dealing with internal expansion or contraction, retirement and any number of stages and possibilities in between. Several are even tailored to a particular industry or culture.


For simplicity, we need only look at the very traditional and very generic product life-cycle:  Introduction, Growth, Maturity, Decline.  As with most organizations, products and services, the goal is to reset the product life-cycle at the end of the maturity stage before beginning the decline phase, thus perpetuating growth and continuity.

What does this mean for today’s professionals? It means that at every phase we must look to see how we may grow – via skills, knowledge, networks, et cetera – so that we may remain competitive and relevant in our industries.  While revenue generation is crucial today, so is the development of human capital.

For those of you who are actively involved in industry organizations, staying current with news, trends and educational opportunities; or even keeping an open mind as to how you can improve as a professional, you are well on your way to maintaining and refreshing your career life-cycle. Never underestimate the value of professional development, no matter what stage you find yourself in.

With this being said, I’ve been asked to address the generational aspect of career development, which leads some to ask what “growth” might mean to different generations; is it the same for all? It is a good question.

Personal growth tends to follow the generational structure because it ties into maturity stages and generational values and perceptions. Professional growth is actually more closely tied to the career life-cycle. Individuals stepping into a new industry, job title or management level reset the cycle and will all find themselves facing similar challenges and opportunities. Most will have to allow a period to learn the role and environment, establish their value, let others get to know them, begin working on projects and initiatives, develop a reputation and working relationships, and so on.

From a younger generation perspective, it is a somewhat-valid, but also questionable, perspective and bias that the career-maturity phase is achieved through age and tenure alone. Time alone does not necessarily foster expertise, aptitude, maturity and credibility. This is why you see younger professionals utilizing social networks to tap into industry expertise – from a larger and more diverse population. This is also why you see younger professionals requesting that organizers seek a variety of session formats, so their learning experience is not restricted by a single “talking-head.” It’s also why you see younger professionals more interested in speaking with people who know the product or service (ex: a planner or on-site specialist), rather than speaking with the leadership of a company, especially in an exhibit booth. While there is good-will generated when one can see who is “leading the charge” for an organization, young professionals want detailed expertise, not the mile-high summary from a leader who is rightfully more focused on the strategic direction of the company and managing employees.

There’s also the sticky balance to professional development in general. For older, or more established professionals who have put in their time, per se, industry involvement is a time to network, teach, mentor and solidify their reputation and role in the industry. It goes without saying that their presence will hopefully directly or indirectly support their organization’s brand image and revenue streams. For younger professionals, industry involvement is important for growth and exposure, as much as it is to start building a network and reputation. Why is this important? In tough times, and even in good times, organizations often seem to use industry involvement as a way to reward established professionals rather than to develop young professionals. It’s a tough balance. As a result, the generational gap is enlarged because employees across an organization are not given access to the same educational opportunities, resources (information, networks, etc), perspectives and more.

These points are undoubtedly more on the controversial sides of the generational gap, values, needs and motivations in the industry. Please feel free to share your own thoughts and any additional questions or considerations.


6 Responses to Career Life-cycle and Generational Professional Development

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