If you have never had a career plan, but instead found yourself careering - sometimes wildly, sometimes successfully - from one opportunity to the next, you’re not alone.

As Sherry Coutu, founder of the Scaleup Institute and one of the most influential women in the tech industry, explained earlier this month, the modern labour market is full of people on a non-linear journey. Employees are seeking out a variety of worki and learning opportunities that, according to LinkedIn, the average person will work 25 jobs before they retire.

Coutu’s presentation, at Newcastle University Business School’s annual David Goldman lecture, was packed full of data on the shifting nature of the demand and supply of skills. Well-documented trends such as a disruptive gig economy and rapid technological developments have created job insecurities, increased industrial competition, and an urgent need for new blends of expertise. Many entry-level jobs are being automated, and so the first real rung-on-the-ladder for a graduate today may be in a role that requires both technological and so-called ‘soft’ skills.

For North East scale-ups, which the Scaleup Institute quantifies as a community of 820 businesses, Coutu’s message was that high-growth businesses are usually more inspiring, agile environments for young people’s learning and personal development, with higher job satisfaction than larger or more established corporates, and an openness to new ideas and ways of working. In other words, the perfect training grounds for the leaders and innovators of tomorrow, providing scale-ups can find ways of attracting, nurturing and maintaining the interest of an increasingly distracted workforce.

Currently, the average 20-30-year-old spends just 10 months in one job. No longer committed to one career path, naturally curious, and therefore not as ‘loyal’ as previous generations. Younger people want to move around, build up ‘stackable’ credentials that show breadth of experience, and explore a range of work experiences. Ten-month employment tenures definitely put a strain on businesses and wider regional economies, especially in the North East, which has, historically, struggled to retain graduates from the allure of bigger cities and more promising career opportunities.

But if high-growth businesses, working in partnership with universities and other groups, could find a way of harnessing today’s workforce’s curiosity for parallel experiences and the opportunity to ‘get involved’ in wider agenda, employees and whole industries could really benefit. Coutu suggests that if scale-ups offer meaningful internships, give young people exposure to company leaders via events and collaborations with universities, they will begin to see more of the skilled graduates and trainees they so desperately need to stay relevant.

An immediate observation, as someone who works with high-growth businesses every day, is that scale-ups often feel they lack the training infrastructure or resource to take on entry-level roles. The wonderful but chaotic nature of fast growth means that companies will often struggle to define the right types of internships or help they need. They may worry about spending money on someone that doesn’t add value because they lack the right expertise to ‘hit the ground running’.

It seems the challenge is to flip this concern on its head and proactively sell the functional chaos of working in a scaleup, as this is exactly the experience many people – not just graduates - are looking for from a job. If companies can find ways of providing flexible but valuable internships and entry-level roles, maybe they will find just what they need – people who love learning and careering but aren’t necessarily wedded to one career.  


Written by Laura Foster