Days of Our (Working) Lives

The nature of work has changed significantly over the last 40 years.

peopleTo find out more, Working Life spoke to Maggie Bernhardt and Sophia Grey, two PSA members at very different points in their working lives.

Nearly 22% of PSA members are aged under 35 – many entering what could become a long career in public or community services.
Meanwhile, 18% of our members are aged over 60.

When reflecting back on over 40 years in the workforce, Maggie, a tertiary administrator at the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) in Wellington, says one of the biggest differences is the changing nature of career pathways.

“From when I started work to now, it’s a totally different environment,” she says. “When people change their careers – in the past it was maybe two times at most, but in the future it’ll be quite a bit more from necessity.”

Sophia, a collections officer at Inland Revenue (IR) in Christchurch, is in her early 20s. She agrees that single career pathways aren’t a reality for her generation, saying “you can’t have an apprenticeship and then expect to grow up and naturally begin your own mechanic shop when you might have a new job every couple of years. You have to be very versatile between trades, and that can be really scary for people.”

Attitudes matter though, and Sophia says some of her friends have unrealistic expectations, “we’re led to believe in school that we’ll walk into a 100k job from university but that’s just not going to happen. My generation seems to be missing the attitude that we have to work our way up from the start, to get there through hard work.”

For Maggie, experience is key: “In today’s world you just need to get experience, it’s not easy to get a job regardless of qualifications, so get experience, but don’t limit your scope on what your next job might be.”

The rapidly changing nature of work and technology means people will need to continually be educating themselves, so Maggie believes that “to future proof your learning is to future proof your career prospects.”

The need to have a future proof education can leave some nervous about their prospects in the coming years. Sophia, who has been in the workforce since she was 14 and had good high school marks but no tertiary qualifications, worries about the future.

“I don’t know if there’ll be a place for me if I don’t go back to university. I have ambitions, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to get them because I don’t know if those jobs will even exist. I’m concerned, so much so that I don’t even want to think about it sometimes.”

Both Sophia and Maggie agree that building positive relationships with colleagues in different age brackets is beneficial for everyone. Sophia loves talking with her older colleagues, as “they have interesting experiences that they’ve gone through and it’s great for them to share it – they have a wealth of knowledge.”

Maggie finds that her openness to learn from her younger colleagues helps her improve, because “sometimes they have skills I don’t have, and I’m happy to ask for advice from them, even if they’ve just started, I should always be happy to learn.”