The 21st Century Career


What are the characteristics that you look for in a career? There are many ways to define our individual careers and as the way in which we do business changes so does our understanding of what it is that we want from work. Paul Coverdale explores the 21st Century Career. 

Almost 20 years after completing my degree I have gone back to school. It’s no ordinary school however. The Escape School based in London a few hundred yards from the Bank of England, is the brainchild of Rob Symington and Dom Jackman who set up Escape the City in 2010. Fed up with their corporate jobs they thought that there must be a better way to work and wanted to break free. Using their own networks they found that they weren’t alone. The word spread and soon they were organising regular meet-ups and creating a community of like minded professionals who had a similar feeling that their work was unfulfilling in some way and who wanted more meaning; a new tribe of people. As well as sourcing new, non-corporate job opportunities for this tribe, their meet-ups led to them hosting events and following a successful crowdfunding campaign in 2014 the Escape School was born.

Over 500 people have passed through their doors since joining either the Escape Tribe, for those wanting to change their careers, or the Start-Up Tribe for the more entrepreneurially minded. I am one of the current intake of the Escape Tribe and since early January I have spent Tuesday evenings and the odd weekend in the company of 50 others who have felt stuck in their careers in some way. My cohort are a pretty diverse mix of professionals in a wide range of sectors from magic circle law firms to advertising, CSR to banking, branding and design. We’re an international bunch too and I’ve gained many different perspectives on what it means to work in the 21st century. One thing that unites us all is the desire to change; not because everyone is dissatisfied with their current working arrangements — although this is certainly true in many cases — but because collectively we feel that something isn’t quite right when we’re at work. An extensive list of crimes in the workplace cited by the Tribe includes: long hours, demanding bosses, increased workload, hypocritical attitudes, politics, self-interest, lack of freedom and autonomy, lack of recognition, meaningless or unethical work. I could go on.

50 people is a small sample. 230,000 is much more significant. This is how many people have signed up to Escape the City so far and in a survey it commissioned last year 1,000 of them expressed similar sentiments as my Tribe about job dissatisfaction. On a co-ordinated World Escape Day last September there were meet-ups in 22 cities across 5 continents suggesting that the problem is not confined to London.

Careers are changing. They are non-linear, diverse, transient, unstable, less secure, and better reflect the range of opportunities and possibilities that today’s inter-connected world creates. The very notion of a “career” in a single profession is looking more and more outdated. Millennials understand this and changing career at 25, 35 or even 65 is increasingly seen as a less and less radical step to take; witness the proliferation of start-ups in the last ten years or so. Despite this many young people, graduates or otherwise, still get sucked into that corporate machine; hence the success of Escape the City. It’s not surprising as our education system and culture is set up for teenagers to follow a specific path: school, university, a profession. Our parents, teachers and career advisors all tell us a version of this same story but then they are products of that same system that has served them so well. It’s a positive feedback loop but one with negative consequences for many.

Being part of the Escape Tribe is an immersive experience that’s creative, empathetic and supportive; three terms you don’t often hear in a corporate environment. The willingness of the group to open up about their hopes, fears, challenges and desires around working is remarkable for a collection of what not so long ago were complete strangers. As the course has progressed there is a real sense of momentum; some have quit their jobs outright, more plan to and many have taken the first practical steps towards doing something new. Everyone dares to dream.

A career change is a big step and can be a big risk, emotionally, practically and financially. But its one that increasing numbers of well-educated, and in many cases well-paid professionals, are prepared to take. In an uncertain world, where we can expect to work longer why not do so on our own terms, doing things that make us happy and have a positive impact on the world?