Work Future 5: The Collage Career

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  • col·lage /kəˈläZH/ noun, a piece of art made by sticking various different materials such as photographs and pieces of paper or fabric onto a backing.1
  • ca·reer /kəˈrir/ noun, an occupation undertaken for a significant period of a person’s life and with opportunities for progress.2

The collage career posits that the “how” of work is at least as important as the “what”. Three defining characteristics of the collage career are:

  1. A strong baseline skill set
  2. Diversification of revenue streams
  3. An increasing integration of work and life

Baseline Skills

According to Bloomberg, the most desired yet hardest to find skills for employers seeking MBA graduates are strategic thinking, problem-solving, leadership skills, and communication skills.3 On the lower end of the skills spectrum, there is much demand for workers with skills such as writing, basic math, basic computer skills (typing, Microsoft Work and Excel), and organizational skills.4 None of these skills are industry-specific. All of these skills are frequently used on an daily or even hourly basis.

Gone are the days where simply becoming an expert is enough to guarantee economic stability. Businesses solve for ever-increasing productivity, and it turns out that significantly more time is filled with navigating colleagues, writing emails, and solving problems, than are filled with creating algorithms, engineering electric cars, or designing products.

A strong baseline skill set is anchored by the soft skills of communication, problem-solving, organization, collaboration, and cultural literacy. These soft skills must be augmented with basic technological competency. Today’s worker should be familiar with the use of phones, tablet and computers; with Windows, Android, OS and iOS; with Google search; and with common software like Microsoft Word and Excel, Google Docs, and WordPress. The baseline set of soft skills + basic technological competency applies to nearly every work situation today. This is also the core skill set needed to stay relevant over time through continual learning and development. Workers of all stripes need to be sharpening existing skills for today while developing new skills for tomorrow.


By investing in the development of skills that can be applied in multiple sectors, workers diversify economic opportunity while minimizing economic fragility.

This diversification is partially driven by the realities of employment itself. Workforce participation is dropping while job tenure is increasing.5 Those with jobs are holding on to them longer. And many without jobs are giving up all together.


Reduced workforce participation and longer tenure mean people are changing jobs less. This is worrying because changing jobs (increasing diversity) is one of the best ways to boost productivity and wages6. It also helps develop skills and grow personal networks, both of which are keys to economic success in the 21st Century.

Employment is not going away, but it is no longer the guarantee of stability or viability it once was. A significant portion of gig economy workers are also currently employed. Of an estimated 12.4 million people who work part-time as independents, 71% have either full- or part-time jobs.7 Instead of changing jobs, these workers are adding to what they already have-collaging, if you will. Diversification is a strategy for both economic survival and success.

Work-Life Integration

A 2014 White House report that compared Millennials to Gen Xers and Baby Boomers found that Millennials prioritize life goals more than the previous generations…

Generational Life Goals8

…while having equal or lesser expectations from their job.

Very Important Job Characteristics Among High School Seniors9

And according to the MBO Partners’ State of Independence report, “…the top four reasons individuals [across all generations] cited most frequently as factors for working independently were: the ability to control my own schedule (61%), more flexibility (58%), like being my own boss (54%) and the ability to do what I love (48%).”10 More workers are building their own work practices to suit their lifestyle needs. And life regularly encroaches into our work worlds in many forms, including spouse 11, age12, and gender13. The division between work and life is an artificial and misleading relic from the Industrial Age. There are numerous reasons approximately 40% of workers are already contingent 14, but one of the biggest is many contingent workers want their work to be aligned with their lifestyles.

The need to be professionally agile, the need to minimize economic fragility, and the desire for an integrated life are why the collage career is emerging.

Questions for further consideration:

  • 5.1 What is the best way to develop baseline skills?
  • 5.2 How can the development of baseline skills be better incorporated into educational experiences?
  • 5.3 What are the social implications of shifting from “What do you?” to “How do you do what you?”?

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  5. Lower workforce participation itself could be driving the increase in tenure. ↩︎
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  9. Ibid. ↩︎
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