Skip to main content

Is there such a thing as a job for life anymore?

Posted November 19, 2020

Talk to your grandparents’ generation about their careers and you’ll hear a very different story to the jobs market you’re about to enter. While today’s workers switch between jobs and employers, people who began careers in the second half of the 20th century may have experienced a ‘job for life’. Over a 50-year career, they might have worked only for the same employer, even doing much the same job!

Yet today, most young people will move between several companies. Maybe even change career at least once. It’s why it’s less important to consider how to find a job for life, but instead focus on how to build a skill set for life. Read on to find out more…

Most workers today move between companies at least a few times in their career. Often the goal is to get a better job. Sometimes it might be a sideways move. To get paid more. Or to work for an employer that offers more opportunities. You might take a break from work altogether. Run a side hustle, go freelance… maybe even change careers.

It’s been estimated that over a 50-year career, today’s average worker has nine jobs – including one complete career change!

It’s thought that just 1.5% of today’s new workers will experience what your grandparents had: a job for life. And so, the ‘rules’ for how you succeed in today’s jobs market are different to what they were many years ago.

In this more fluid marketplace, you need to concentrate on boosting your ability to win jobs and succeed in all the positions you have. In other words, you need to build a skill set for life.

What do we mean by a skill set?

Let’s start with the basics. There are three main things that employers look for when they’re hiring somebody:

  • Hard skills: recognised qualifications or accreditations
  • Soft skills: skills you develop through experience in life and work
  • Behaviours: the way you act or conduct yourself.


Hard skills are important, as they demonstrate you’ve got the foundations or relevant qualifications to follow a chosen career. For instance: it might be GCSEs or diplomas. But also specialised accreditations, such as the BS EN ISO 9606-1 qualification needed for nuclear-grade welders.

In a fluid jobs market, though, where you might switch roles (or even industries) multiple times, employers are just as interested in what soft skills you can demonstrate. These include qualities like time management, problem solving and team working. They’re the kind of skills that are valuable whatever job you take. Or whichever industry you work in.

Employers are equally interested in workers who show the right kind of behaviours. These demonstrate what kind of a person you are. So they give employers an idea of how you’ll fit into their teams.

And behaviours such as commitment, adaptability and willingness to learn won’t only help you perform better in your career. You’ll get more fulfilment from your work too.

Building a skill set for life makes you more desirable as an employee. It gives you freedom to move between jobs and progress into more senior and exciting roles. It’s an enormous benefit outside work too. Skills like communication and emotional awareness can help you in relationships and to respond positively to major life events. By learning new skills, you’ll boost your focus and feel more creative too.

How do you develop a skill set for life?

There’s no shortcut to learning skills. We pick up many as we go through life – like learning how to communicate from an early age. But there’s always room for improvements. And learning new skills altogether.

The key to building a skill set for life is to be guided by what you enjoy doing or aspire to do. Then you can balance the skills you enjoy most, with others that you need in your chosen career.

1) Love what you do and do what you love

Those wise words were said by an American writer, Ray Bradbury. And he’s right: the single best decision you can make in your career is to choose a role that embraces the things you enjoy.

For example, if you like tinkering around with computers, consider how you develop the right skills to turn this into a career in IT. If you like being outside, or being active, there are any number of construction jobs that will give you plenty of both. You may be working for 50 years or more, so you need to be motivated to get out of bed every morning!

How do you find out what you love doing?

First, think about the skills you already have and what you enjoy doing. Write down your hard skills (qualifications) and soft skills – and the behaviours you’re developing. Can you demonstrate responsibility, for example, or resilience?

Which skills or behaviours resonate with you the most? Try to identify these and why you enjoy them. Think about the careers or jobs that will help you develop them. For ideas, try looking up your skills on the Start jobs explorer and identify which careers they’re valued in.

2) Do what you want

Starting with your skills is important. But it also helps to flip it and look at things the other way around. For instance: is there an industry that really excites you? Or a dream job that really appeals? Perhaps you want to be an ecologist, responsible for the ecosystems around man-made environments like Hinkley Point C?

How do I know what I want to do?

If you’re not sure what you want to do – or if you want to find out more about your ideal job – start with some research. If you’re interested in working at HPC, read about the many job families available on the project. Have a look at what skills you need to get the job you want. Do you have them yet or can you develop them?

3) Put the effort in to get the hard skills

Most jobs require a minimum set of qualifications or other hard skills. For example, if you want to be a business administrator apprentice, you usually need five or more GCSEs, including Maths and English.

It’s important to understand the minimum qualifications for the job you want, and then aim to do better – if you can – to achieve standout.

That said… Don’t panic if you didn’t get the results! Especially if your work or studies have been affected by Covid-19. Employers are often willing to flex their requirements for exceptional candidates. And everyone is aware of how challenging Covid-19 has made getting the grades or qualifications you need.

People who demonstrate great initiative, strong soft skills or behaviours (such as resilience) often have great potential. It also helps if you can say why you really want a job – and explain what you can bring to the role. Employers will be impressed that you’ve taken the time to think about your response. 

4) Take the long-term view

Your skills, and the way you behave, aren’t set in stone for life. Your behaviours will evolve and improve over time. And you’ll develop new behaviours throughout your career and life.

The same is true for skills. Expect to learn new hard skills during your career. For example, undergoing further training and certification to work with specific equipment, or in certain environments.

You should also expect to improve and add to your soft skills over your career. For example, you may learn new communication techniques, such as how to give a presentation.

Don’t ever stop learning or developing your skill set

Maybe you’ve heard the phrase ‘every day is a school day’? It’s a cliche, but it’s true. The most successful people never stop working to learn and developing new skills and behaviours. 

While a job for life may be a thing of the past, the rewards you get from a job you enjoy is timeless. And building up your skill set will bring you the freedom to pursue what you enjoy. And lead to a more fulfilling, rewarding and creative life.

Discover more

Use the links below to research jobs you’re interested in at HPC, find the skills they require, and learn more about how you can develop your skills to match:

The world of work at HPC – what jobs are there, and what skills do you need?

Job families – what jobs and apprenticeships are available at HPC?

Routes to employment at HPC – how can you gain the skills you need?

Skills and behaviours valued at HPC – which behaviours and soft skills do employers look for?

Related articles

October 04, 2021

Meet the contractor: COMA/Wessex Water

COMA provides utilities and construction services at Hinkley Point C through the Construction Operations Maintenance Alliance (COMA). Find out about their role on the project, and what job opportunities they have for young people.
October 04, 2021

Meet the contractor: Somerset Larder

Somerset Larder dishes up 8,000 meals a day to hungry workers at Hinkley Point C. We spoke to their Head of HR, Sue Stoodley, to find out what opportunities they have for young people interested in working in the hospitality or catering sectors.