An Interview with Dr. Ron Elsdon, Author of How to Build a Non-Traditional Career Path
Dr. Ron Elsdon presented to a Phase2careers audience. Questions asked by Ron Visconti
Why did you write this book?
In today's and the future work world, creating an individual, nontraditional career path such as I have experienced is a growing opportunity. I am thankful for this and for many supportive people who made this path and what I have learned from it possible. It has been a pleasure giving presentations over the years on this topic and some seeds for writing this book were planted by encouragement from participants at those presentations to write a book. It is a blessing to be able to offer in this book much of what I have learned building on experiences and perspectives from a variety of settings and integrating thoughtful and valuable perspectives of others The book will likely appeal at various life stages from initial entry into the workforce, to mid-career reflection, to those later work/life stages that we used to call retirement. I wrote the book to help readers discern if a nontraditional path is right for them and, if so, how to define and pursue such a path.
What do you mean by 'nontraditional careers'?
Broadly a nontraditional career path can be anything that does not just involve conventional employment with an organization. Our focus in the book is on a nontraditional path that is tailored to each person's individual needs and consists of more than one source of income (one source of income can be considered a particular case). The form a nontraditional career path takes will be different for each of us, for example containing career components that are strongly connected or those that are quite different. Each nontraditional career path represents a combination of components that draw on our values, personality preferences, aspirations, interests, and skills, chosen by us and developed by us.
What trends are you seeing in this area?
Various changes in the work environment are tilting the balance in favor of nontraditional career paths rather than conventional employment. These changes include: economic disruption in concert with changing global and national economies, growing pay inequity in large organizations between CEOs and workers, reduction in long-term benefits (such as elimination of defined benefit pension plans) in many organizations, changing perspectives about work and growing enthusiasm for self-employment, ready access to low-cost communication and analysis tools, an improving health-care safety net in the United States (as long as this is not compromised by the current administration). The risk/return profile is shifting in favor of nontraditional paths as risk is mitigated there by incorporating several career components built on personal strengths, whereas others make decisions about employment continuity in a conventional setting. Reward is built on applying individuals skills and characteristics in a nontraditional path, rather than being captured disproportionately in a conventional organization by those in power.
What motivates someone to do a nontraditional career?
Motivation can be sparked by external events, internal re-assessment of priorities, or a combination of both. External events include gradual economic disruptions, such as pay inequity or technology-induced sector restructuring. Rapid disruptions include job loss, initial entry into the workforce, changes in one's later stage work life, and changing family needs and responsibilities. Internal re-assessment can include recognition at an early stage that conventional employment is not attractive, or it may be a need for a greater sense of purpose at midcareer, or it may be a desire to create a meaningful legacy or to address pressing financial needs at later career stages.
Can you give a few examples of nontraditional careers?
There are many examples of nontraditional careers described in How to Build a Nontraditional Career Path. They include my own nontraditional career path that incorporated individual career counseling and coaching, workforce consulting, adjunct teaching, guiding and supporting a practice, volunteer work, and writing, connected by a common theme of the relationship of individuals, organizations, and community. The examples include vignettes of seven people describing their experiences specifically for this book, and they include many other examples cited of people who have written of their experiences ranging from switching from finance to writing, working in the arts and music, working in healthcare, at encore stages, at early career stages, in technical consulting, and in a range of entrepreneurial endeavors.
How can you get started?
A nontraditional career can be started at any life stage. It is most successful when built at the intersection of passion/interests, skills, and external needs. Here we can affirm our values and create fulfilling and rewarding work. In thinking about the initial entry decision, reflecting on the critical mass of skills and attributes needed, those already in place, and gaps to fill is important, as is considering relationships on which to build. There are also assessments that can help in aligning a potential path forward with personal work/life purpose and in thinking through the potential fit of components to include in the nontraditional path. A positive entry decision provides a foundation for the subsequent launch stage and the various associated strategic and practical factors reviewed in How to Build a Nontraditional Career Path that are instrumental in moving forward successfully.