The decades-long career is in decline. And for many, that’s a good thing.

“Tacking swiftly from job to job and field to field, learning new skills all the while, resembles the pattern that increasingly defines our careers,” writes Anya Kamenetz in Fast Company magazine.

How swiftly? According to federal statistics, as of 2010, the median number of years U.S. workers had been in their jobs was 4.4 years.

“This decline in average job tenure is bigger than any economic cycle,” Kamenetz says, “bigger than any particular industry, bigger than differences in education levels and bigger than differences in gender.”

And it’s evident across ages and career stages.Cheryl Edmonds, 61, illuminates the Fast Company article with her story of a winding career path that led her to become an Encore Fellow.

“What’s happening to our society with faster career change is unsettling for some, and for others it’s business as usual,” Edmonds, says. “My career has not been a straight line by any stretch.”

She’s not kidding. Edmonds’ professional pursuits have included stints as a field engineer for IBM and HP and as a manager of an art supply store. With growing family and financial responsibilities Edmonds needed something more lucrative. She returned to HP, using her retail experience to work in worldwide marketing.

Approaching age 55, Edmonds became eligible for retirement. She took the opportunity to explore other interests: selling vintage greeting cards online; heading a startup nonprofit for the blind; and, in China, teaching English and training Peace Corps volunteers.

When Edmonds returned home last year, she learned of the Social Venture Partners Portland Encore Fellows™ program, which helps experienced corporate professionals transition to jobs at nonprofits. The organization was recruiting recent retirees like her to participate, especially those from HP, a program sponsor.

Today Edmonds works at Metropolitan Family Service, a social service agency in Portland, Ore., screening volunteers. She is earning a $20,000 stipend during her yearlong stint.

“In many respects, Edmonds’ career is a model for others her age,” Kamenetz writes. “Yet she shares inspiration with her 27-year-old daughter, a costume designer. ‘She recently told me that she expects that she may have to change careers several times in her life,’ Edmonds says. `She doesn’t have fear about it.'”

To read the Fast Company article, click here.To learn more about Encore Fellowships, go here.

Published: January 11, 2012

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