Last week, my dad celebrated his 35th year with his company. It’s the same small engineering firm that he joined straight out of college, and worked his way up the ranks over the years to become part owner.
His dad worked for 41 years at Bethlehem Steel in Baltimore. He started as a laborer in the tin mill, then worked as the tin mill foreman and, finally, as a sort of administrative engineering assistant.
Their career paths go against any advice I received in college. To get promoted, to get better pay or better benefits, you aren’t supposed to patiently work your way through the ranks – you jump them.
Stay in a position only until you’ve got as much from it as you can, I’ve been told. Then shift to something new. If you stop growing, start moving. Don’t stay more than two to three years in one place.
My generation is not known for its loyalty; between the ages of 20 and 30, most people will have eight jobs.
The days are gone when many people could expect to spend 40 years at a single company, moving steadily up the ladder before retiring. Today, employees my age view themselves as “free agents,” who must actively manage our own careers to get the best wages, best benefits, and best hours. Maybe we grew up watching too many professional athletes.
No doubt, we’re pickier than my grandfather’s generation, where I imagine the prevailing attitude was to consider yourself lucky if you had steady work and steady income. Be thankful you have a job and work hard at it. Today, my generation wants paid vacation days – reporter Myers Reece’s friend who just visited from Belgium has 45 days per year – and health care. And, call us spoiled, but I don’t feel bad that my generation asks for those things.
But, I see the benefits of the career path my grandfather and father followed. As a kid, I never worried about my dad being out of work or had to move schools or towns for him to start a new job. It was stability I took for granted, and now – as I wonder where my career will take me in the next decade – part of me wishes was still the norm. He jokingly attributes his loyalty to a “lack of imagination;” it’s something I hope he’s proud of.
As I start my career, I’m not sure yet what pattern I will follow. For now, I’m thankful to feel as though I’m settling into the Flathead Valley and my job at the Beacon, and happy to have my bags unpacked.
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