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40 Jobs in 40 Years? Fact or Fiction?

I heard a bizarre quote the other day:  The next generation’s employee will have 40 different jobs in a 40-year span. 

Even if some of these jobs were to be within the same company, this scenario represents a complete paradigm shift from today’s seven to twelve.  The discussion following the comment included an assessment of Gen Y and their quest for the perfect job (and lack of so-called patience to see how jobs play out).  There may be some truth to that, but I am very skeptical.

Certainly, we have all seen the 1950’s scenario of “two-way, long-term loyalty” fall off.  Although there are still many who retire with their first company, the majority do not.  Sometimes this is the employee’s choice, sometimes not.  But 40 jobs in 40 years?  This implies new employees working for a quarter, month, or week and moving on (not the employer cutting the cord).

As of 2006 to 2008, we may have seen the growing tenure trend come to a peak.  Bureau of Labor Statistics data show an stable trend over the last eight years, but recently the trend has leveled out or decreased.  And our current tough economy will certainly skew the data for Jan 2010.  Here is an excerpt (and here is the whole table):

Median years of tenure with current employer for employed wage and salary workers by occupation, selected years, 2000-08

Occupation Feb 2000 Jan 2002 Jan 2004 Jan 2006 Jan 2008
Management 5.3 5.6 6.0 6.0 6.0
Computer & Math 3.1 3.2 4.8 4.8 4.5
Architecture & Engineering 4.8 5.2 5.8 6.5 6.4
Legal 3.9 4.5 4.1 5.0 4.3
Arts, design, entertainment, sports, media 3.2 3.0 3.6 3.6 3.4
Sales 2.6 2.7 2.8 2.8 2.9
Total 3.5 3.7 4.0 4.0 4.1

Source: US Department of Labor

Much has been said about what is the “right” amount of tenure for career advancement.  I am not discussing that today.  However, Erin White wrote a great article for The Wall Street Journal that sums that up nicely.

What I want to know:  IS THERE TRUTH TO THE 40-40 SCENARIO?  From what you have seen-heard-experienced, what is your assessment?  If this turns out to be true, how do we prepare our kids?

Please take my latest poll AND share your thoughts using this blog post (click on Comments at bottom of post).  I’ll attempt to compile all the feedback and share.

May 15, 2009 - Posted by | Careers, General Musings


  1. Hmmm, Jeff, I think this is pure fantasy.

    Comment by Suzanne Levison | May 15, 2009 | Reply

  2. This is an interesting question. I think factors that will contribute include the trend toward remote workers and even self-employment. Does the self employed “consultant” who does jobs for several clients over a long period list just one job or many? The question will have to account for this. But I also see a potential trend toward “task oriented” jobs that come with remote working ability. Hard to predict, but I think 40 in 40 is eventually plausible.

    Comment by Craig Fisher | May 15, 2009 | Reply

  3. The very idea of work or a job as we know it today is changing. What I’m seeing is the coming of a ‘gig’ generation on the horizon who do tasks and projects not a ‘job’. I read someplace that college freshman studying computer science will be behind the curve when they graduate because its all moving so fast. Much of the career education I see taking place (schools, coaches, etc.) seems to be focused on looking over your shoulder at what has been and not the road ahead. With the coming virtualality, new technologies and economic shifts it promises to be an interesting time. I’m not sure I buy the 40/40 number but change that we can not imagine based on our historical reference is coming.

    Comment by Bill Vick | May 15, 2009 | Reply

  4. Interesting, Jeff.

    While I definitely we will continue to see a shift toward self-employment and more project / consulting work rather than the traditional employment model, 40 jobs in 40 years seems rather extreme.

    First, not everyone will ever get to a point that they feel comfortable with the self-employment / contract / consulting model. There are just too many people who still want the “security” of a paycheck…even though we all know there is no such thing as “job security” anymore. Additionally, I think people are seeing that relying on a single source of income, such as a salary, is risky, and are moving toward generating multiple streams of income at any given time.

    Secondly, not every employer will feel comfortable or be interested in hiring people on a contract basis.

    Third, the nature of some jobs just requires a traditional employment model, whether for liability reasons, avoiding conflicts of interest, etc.

    And, the nature of certain projects requires a contract or commitment for a year, three years, five years, etc. Not every job or project can be done in 12 months or less. Many system implementations / conversions, research and development projects, and others require more than a 12 month commitment.

    Finally, many people are change-resistant and will do what they have to do to remain “comfortable” in a job, even if it’s not the best fit or no longer right for them anymore.

    While there are always exceptions and we’ll probably see SOME people with 40 “jobs” in 40 years, I think that will be the extreme.

    Thanks, Jeff!


    Comment by Stephanie A. Lloyd | May 15, 2009 | Reply

  5. One factor that will defienitely impact this: whether or not the current system of employer provided benefits, especially medical insurance, changes sooner rather than later.

    Think of how liberating it could be career wise if you could choose where you lived and worked without the consideration of health care in the equation.

    How liberating would that be for adventurous and entreprenuerial people?

    I think 40 in 40 is a stretch. I see more like 20 in 40. I have had 8-10 different positions in 24 years, depending on how you classify “job”.

    Comment by Michael VanDervort | May 15, 2009 | Reply

  6. I agree with Bill. The 40/40 number seems a bit much. I am not sure I agree that a 4 year CS degree is obselete when the student graduates. If the school taught CS theory and core CS fundementals right, that knowledge should be relevant years to come. In the end I think a lot of productivity will be lost by the masses if this 40/40 mentality holds. People are more productive in an environment they know. However, on the other hand, people also like change. I guess we all have front row seats to the game. We will all have an exciting time along the way, right?

    Comment by Gil Vander Voort | May 15, 2009 | Reply

  7. If everything we are used to getting in benefits becomes portable from job to job why wouldn’t we see this kind of project-based work model go to 40 jobs in 40 years? Other than vacation, which one can schedule between projects, what would keep a professional from getting very tailored and broad experience in their field? An environment of controlling your career instead of the corporation doing it for you is already being set up. Of course that assumes a job is not just a perm hire – it includes contract or consulting, part time work, internships, contract to hire (can be two different jobs and maybe other job situations we haven’t even thought of.

    Comment by Dorothy Beach, CIR PHR | May 15, 2009 | Reply

  8. 40 in 40? Wow, that’s a lot. I agree with many of the comments here that we’ll see more people transitioning to contracts, freelancing and self-employment. With the emphasis in social media on micro-transactions, the change occuring in voluteering with micro-volunteering, perhaps we’ll see something similar in the job world with micro-jobs–short term jobs. If that’s the case, then I could see 40 in 40 easily.

    Comment by Jeff Hurt | May 15, 2009 | Reply

  9. I agree that this 40 in 40 scenario is pretty extreme. Unless, instead of “real jobs,” we all wind up as independent contractors, which is a pretty extreme scenario as well.

    Times are certainly changing, though, and job seekers need to be prepared to change jobs more frequently than in the past.

    Thanks for the food for thought!!

    Comment by Miriam Salpeter, Keppie Careers | May 15, 2009 | Reply

  10. WOW! 40 jobs in 40 years? And I thought the client I worked with that had 11 jobs in 8 years was an extreme exception. As Stephanie indicated, what happens to cohesive, consistent operations?

    Lots of good comments … project driven “jobs” as opposed to a career, contract positions for all. Although, on the contract front, realistically, I don’t see all of today’s society accepting that much responsibility for their future and/or their employment.

    We’ve been indoctrinated into a system that “takes care of all that”, up to deducting payroll and social security taxes, before paychecks are issued. I don’t see a workforce ready to take over 100% responsibility anytime soon … regardless where they are in their career — beginning, middle, end. Up side would be, if everyone went contract and they had to write that quarterly income tax check, it might drive some reforms in an antiquated, archaic tax system.

    40/40 is a bit extreme, unless you’re speaking of a well-rounded, cross-trained employee who can cover, effectively any position in the company and that’s how the “40/40” figure is derived. That would eliminate the “Susie’s on vacation and she’s the only one that knows how to do that” craziness found in some companies.

    It’s an interesting employment market out there. The flexible and adaptable will survive and thrive. It’ll be interesting to see if this is truly the wave of the future …

    Comment by Dawn Bugni | May 15, 2009 | Reply

  11. I agree with the other comments, forty in forty years is too extreme and designed for word of mouth impact…it is too pat, too too if you know what I mean. But still….

    Comment by glhoffman | May 15, 2009 | Reply

  12. Jeff, Your post as well as your commenters’ posts were very thought-provoking. I personally have been self-employed for 20+ years. That being said, even if I look at the subcontracts I have had with non-profits, they ranged from 2 to 17 years. I can see where in IT & other consultant-driven fields, you could have multiple gigs even in a one year time frame. But I would categorize those as contracts not employment in the traditional sense.

    The health insurance angle certainly does motivate some people. I will hear that from my clients that sometimes they select their next placement on the basis of benefits even if they know that another position is one that they would thrive in, feel fulfilled, and ultimately be happier to hold.

    I think the answer to your question 40 jobs in 40 years is that I don’t think it will be the norm but it might become more common. Corporate hiring is becoming much less predictable even for a commitment of 2-3 years. When the economy stabilizes, I think that will change. I also think that as people become more aware of career management options to match them closer to jobs they want and enjoy as well as learn ways of finding jobs beyond ads, job boards, and postings, they will more likely find positions that make them happy to stay.

    Comment by Julie Walraven | May 16, 2009 | Reply

  13. I would definitely believe in more freelancing and self-employment with MAYBE 40 12-month contracts (vs. 40 W2 employers) possible in a 40 year career. Maybe!

    40 in 40 sounds excessive and also unpleasant even in this increasingly ADD world. I always HATED starting a new job – who can/can’t you trust, what’s real/fiction????

    But, if 40 in 40 does happen, employers will lose a great deal of the “institutional memory” – the understanding of how to make things work and the “standard” ways of dealing with specific situations that gets passed on from employee to employee in the standard course of a day’s work. Employers will have to get MUCH better at documenting how things are handled and making it easier to access that documentation for those employers and employees to survive.

    Employees will have more responsibility for finding the right answers in all that documentation and more information management skills. Maybe this is where Twitter comes in? Intra-employer Twitter systems – “Hey, anybody know how Company XYZ likes their widget to look/act?”

    Otherwise, frankly, it sounds like a recipe for international competitive disaster for the US.

    I don’t think it’s really practical for many reasons, so I’m not expecting it to really happen.

    Comment by Susan Joyce | May 16, 2009 | Reply

  14. Reading the post and the comments above, the following questions come to mind:

    1) What’s the definition of a job?
    2) What’s so bad about 40 in 40?

    I work with young people today who are actually inspired at the thought of being able to change that frequently.

    I remember sitting in a meeting years ago at the staffing firm I worked for. An executive from the worldwide HQ was there and stated we can expect more than 50% of the world’s workforce to be contract workers in the next 10 to 20 years. That idea always stuck with me. The truth is, we have the technology and speed of ideas to create a highly adaptable and flexible workforce. The only thing holding us back is our mindsets/expectations towards jobs/careers.

    I smell a Renaissance…and I like it!

    People will learn to cope with job hopping – it just takes practice. So, the more they do it, the better they’ll get at it.

    Better still, people will learn to adapt to different environments, managers, etc.

    But best of all, people will learn to take their careers into their own hands.

    Thanks for offering up a great post for discussion!

    Comment by J.T. O'Donnell | May 16, 2009 | Reply

  15. JT asks a good question: What’s the definition of a job?

    If different projects in the same company are counted as separate jobs it might not be hard to hit 40.

    Also, I was reading a cover letter Jerry Albright posted in which an IT contractor said that he had been on contract with the same company for seven years.

    This fellow was a freelancer and yet he stayed at the same job longer than most full time employees do.

    So while everyone is announcing the coming of project oriented employment there are bound to be a lot of confusing definitions involved in the numbers presented to us.

    This is a very important point.

    Comment by Recruiting Animal | May 16, 2009 | Reply

  16. As several have said, the definition of “job” needs to be more clearly defined to really be able to hash this out.

    My take is that if you consider yourself an independent contractor or consultant that is your job and the projects you work on are what you do and they shouldn’t be counted as individual employments. Seems the majority of brick and mortar companies demand them to be manned by longterm employees and smart ones implement retention strategies to keep and grow them expressly to avoid having to meet the costly demands of turnover and attrition.

    Even if I can work virtually and never have to leave my home, someone has to pick and pack the groceries I order, work at the mail distribution center, manufacture consumer packaged goods, etc. Those types of jobs are the base of our consumer driven economy. If I’m an employer I’m not going to seriously consider rabbits, above all if the learning curve is substantial and I know there going to hop along shortly.

    In summary, I do not believe the majority of employment will ever support 40 in 40 in the true sense of having 40 different employers. If it does we are going to have to rethink that thing about keeping resumes to 2 pages.

    Comment by Karla Porter | May 17, 2009 | Reply

  17. Jeff, interesting post, sorry for the delay in getting to it. If the current environment does not shift, then I have to agree that we’re on track to see that reality- averaging a year per job. That being said, I don’t believe we’re in for a calm environment, and expect sweeping changes over the next 20 years. I hope these changes include a return to simplicity and a disengagement from personal greed and the need to accumulate for the sake of accumulating. Whether or not that’s true, I do think that no employer will be able to successfully build business while dealing with turnover for every body every year. Because of this, somehow a change will be made that keeps people working in their company and in their job capacity, so that long term projects and goals can be achieved.

    Comment by Jason C. Blais | May 18, 2009 | Reply

  18. Interesting discussion Jeff-thanks much for sharing.

    The 40 jobs in 40 years seems a tad extreme-even in today’s more versatile and flexible career marketplace. It’s definitely a great starting point to discussion. The rate of innovation happening now with career trends is downright refreshing. The marketplace for entrepreneurship is as active and exciting as we have witnessed in previous years.

    My perspective is some people are simply not wired to take on that much transition in their career. I’m also not yet convinced employers are ready to view that many hops on a resume without running in the opposite direction-despite the best creative story attached to the transitions. If you look at true career fit from the vantage point of personality + culture fit (like me) you will likely need to vote on the side of fiction for this one. It takes a certain type of person to thrive in a culture of such change and uncertainty. The theory of 40 jobs in 40 years may not yet match the reality.

    Comment by Meghan M. Biro | May 18, 2009 | Reply

  19. Thanks for providing the opportunity to comment. Not sure anyone will read this far down the page though! He He

    I clearly think this the trend and direction we’re rapidly headed. However, as previously mentioned, would definitely need to put the term ‘job’ in specific context for further analysis/commentary.

    As our ability to communicate increases, and the market continues to move rapidly towards a knowledge based service type model of capitalism, this seems to be inevitable. More of a question of when, not if…

    Look at the Gen Y’ers as example: they generally see themselves as an EBay item (i.e., for sale to the highest bidder or rent/lease).

    Great story by Morely Safer in 2007, then again in 2008 regarding this demographic. You should check it out if you’ve not yet done so.

    Here’s a link:

    Comment by EASTeam | May 19, 2009 | Reply

  20. I won’t lie. I’m only 28 and I’ve held 23 jobs in my lifetime already. I think 40 jobs might be a little high, but I definately think that it’s reasonable to expect something in the 30s. I’m reading these comments and some people think that is a great thing: adaptability, flexibility, etc. But you have to realize tha these things come at a price. The incoming generation does not hold the same values that current employees do. Many of them are fickle and lazy.

    The idea of a workforce built solely on contracts and freelancers seems very interesting, but I don’t see it becoming the dominant process, either. Those young people who are thinking ahead of the curve will certainly fall into an entrprenuerial role, but there will always be those people who will just settle for holding on to a mediocre job as long as they can.

    Comment by Happy | May 19, 2009 | Reply

  21. I think 40 jobs in 40 is very possible – but for the sake of some professions I hope this is not the case. Most scientists diligently stay at one job hoping to find a “cure” – thank goodness for their passion and “stick-to- it-ness”. Or, the teacher that gets better with more exerience and then there is the barista at your favorite coffee place that you hope NEVER leaves.

    Comment by Gretchen | May 19, 2009 | Reply

  22. I think the idea of 40 jobs in 40 years is the same as being a consultant, or entrepreneur… Me, Inc, anyone?

    Jason Alba
    :: – organize your Job Search
    :: “LinkedIn for Job Seekers” DVD (not just for job seekers)

    Comment by Jason Alba | May 19, 2009 | Reply

  23. 40/40 is feasible, particularly in contract/project/self-employed arenas, although not likely in traditional,non-salaried, non-technical jobs. It is also dependent upon the method by which we measure such job counts, and the consistency across all reports measuring them.

    Comment by DINA | May 20, 2009 | Reply

  24. If you are an entrepreneur/consultant then 40 jobs in 40 years is what you envision it to be + certainly viable. My comments above relate to permanent, full-time roles.

    Comment by Meghan M. Biro | May 20, 2009 | Reply

  25. The reason the next generation will have so many jobs is because this generation challenges the corporate theory! Now this generation is not taking what their boss says and accepting it if it is questionable.

    I personally think this needs to happen. Take the economy, a company reduces 25% of your pay and tells you “be thankful you have a job!” This is such B to the S that is like giving someone a piece of moldy bread and saying hey be thankful you have some food. Instead of reducing your wages and cutting hours find other means to save money, I am sure there is another way, there always is…

    Comment by Heather Kilcrease | May 20, 2009 | Reply

  26. No way. I don’t agree. At least, not any more. I admit, after hearing so many negative things about Gen Y, I was leaning a bit toward the anti-Gen Y movement, but then I sat back and looked at my nieces and nephews.

    I have 4 n&n’s in college and 2 more on the way, and I’ll tell you, I don’t know harder working kids. They’ve all worked their way through high school AND college, and so have their friends! Maybe they are a rarity, but I don’t think so. I think, like anything, there are those that DO think the job needs THEM instead of vice versa, but I don’t think it’s the majority. I think it is how they are raised, because they all have the same “i’m-so-lucky-just-to-have-a-job-and-am-making-money” attitude that we had growing up.

    Even my entry-level clients don’t have many jobs. 2 – 4 tops… and that was through high school and college.

    I hope it doesn’t go the extreme other way. That is just way too depressing. 🙂

    Interesting post. Thanks!

    Comment by erinkennedy | May 20, 2009 | Reply

  27. […] of mine, Jeff Lipschultz wrote an interesting blog post on the trend of shorter tenure at jobs, 40 Jobs in 40 Years? Fact or Fiction? While I think 40 might be stretching it, even the government recognizes people are not retiring […]

    Pingback by 50 is the New 30 | KARLA PORTER | Human Capital & New Media | July 18, 2009 | Reply

  28. […] and recruiter, Jeff Lipschultz included statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor in his post “40 jobs in 40 years? Fact or Fiction?” According to 2008 statistics individuals changed jobs, every 2.9 to 6.0 years. With that kind of […]

    Pingback by Your network IS your net worth « Dawn's Blog | October 30, 2009 | Reply

  29. […] and recruiter, Jeff Lipschultz included statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor in his post “40 jobs in 40 years? Fact or Fiction?” According to 2008 statistics individuals changed jobs, every 2.9 to 6.0 years. With that kind of […]

    Pingback by Your network IS your net worth | Career Management Alliance Blog | November 2, 2009 | Reply

  30. 40 jobs in 40 years is extreme but it is also reality. One day after my 40th birthday I completed my first e-book titled, you guessed it, 40 Jobs In 40 Years.

    Jeff, if I need to change the title please let me know. I wasn’t aware that your site/blog existed until today.

    In addition to the e-book, I am in the process of putting together presentations for corporate human resource departments and job seekers. The goal is to share my experiences to help companies hire better and retain employees longer. For job seekers, the emphasis would be attitude…never give up.

    Comment by Joseph Holan | December 19, 2009 | Reply

    • No issues on the title. Great minds think alike. Good luck with it!

      Comment by jefflipschultz | December 19, 2009 | Reply

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