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Job for Life? Not Likely

The concept of keeping a job for the better part of your life is as about as quaint and archaic these days as the one of keeping a spouse for a similarly long-termed stretch.

This generation’s labour participants — characterized in turns as either fickle and impatient or gregarious and curious — require the regular injection of stimulation-loaded novelty that comes with a new job. So rather than sign on with a company with the expectation that they’ll remain committed for a drawn-out period, it’s something of an expectation that they’ll be moving on after a reasonable stretch.


In a survey of 4,000 Canadians conducted by Workopolis in 2014, only 6% of respondents had held just one job in their career; 16% said they’d already held “more than 10.”

Another burst of Workopolis research — “Thinkopolis IV: Time to Work” — discovered that:

  • 51% of people now stay in a job for less than two years;
  • 30% of people stay in a job for more than four years.

When it explored the topic with a generational bent (analyzing seven million Canadians’ work histories from its database), it found:

  • Generation X spends over 20% longer in each job than Gen Y does.
  • People who graduated university in 1992 worked an average of 3.2 jobs in the first 12 years of their career, staying approximately 41 months (or 3.4 years) in each job.
  • People who graduated in 2002 held an average of 3.9 jobs over their first 12 years on the job market, with a shorter tenure of 32.5 months (or 2.7 years) in each job.
  • Gen Yers changed jobs 22% more often over a 12-year period than Gen Xers did.

Statistics Canada, meanwhile, reports that two-thirds of Canadian baby boomers entered their fifties employed in jobs they’d had for at least 12 years with the same employer. In fact, more than half had worked for the same organization for 20+ years.

If the current trend continues, says Workopolis, Canadians can expect to hold 15 jobs in their lifetimes.

A University of Guelph-funded study conducted in 2014 — “A Comparative Study of Work Values between Generation X and Generation Y” — found that:

  • The oldest millennials had an average of seven jobs by the time they hit 30;
  • By the time they were 30, Gen Xers had held four jobs.

Reports on this topic by Forbes and recruitment consultancy Morgan McKinley declare that the average 35-year-old will change jobs eight to 10 times before she’s 42 and change careers six to eight times before she retires.

And so it goes. The notion of an individual travelling a linear progression through one job for life is a dinosaur, replaced by a workplace defined by unapologetically nomadic participants, cultivating transferable skills that they gleefully apply to a variety of posts.

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