2. The concept of ‘boundaryless’ career
3. Implications for individual and organisational learning
As companies seamlessly move across the globe in search of talent and resources, so to are highly skilled individuals taking up this opportunity to choose a job which best meets their goals and expectations. People are making more frequent job moves than in the past, in their pursuit of boundaryless careers. This unpredictable, non-linear career creates opportunities as well as problems for both individuals and organisations. In particular, it affects both individual and organisational learning, and, since knowledge is power, it affects the prosperity of both. Both individuals and companies need to ensure that boundaryless careers do not adversely affect learning at the person and organisational level. At the person level, lack of learning has clear implications for future employability. At the organisation level, lack of learning will adversely affect long-term (and in today’s fast-changing world, even short-term) company performance. Employees are left with little choice but to learn continuously and to expand their networks to maintain employability. Organisations, on the other hand, are left with little choice but to provide interesting and meaningful work, as well as broad management support, that enhances individual’s skills and develops and sustains careers.
Globalisation and technological advances are bringing new opportunities as well as challenges to both individuals and organisations. As companies seamlessly move across the globe in search of talent and resources, so to are highly skilled individuals taking up this opportunity to choose a job which best meets their goals and expectations. Evidently, both men and women are making more frequent job moves than in the past (Ackah and Heaton, 2004) keenly, perhaps, navigating across employers and geographies, aided by extensive social and professional connections (Arthur and Rousseau, 1996). This new breed of people are pursuing boundaryless careers - careers, it seems, limited only by their imagination.
This chaotic, nonlinear, network-centered career (Arthur and Rousseau, 1996) is marked by a variety of tasks, redefinitions of one’s profession, fits-and-starts (Mirvis and Hall, 1994), which creates opportunities as well as problems for both individuals and organisations. In particular, it affects both individual and organisational learning, and, since knowledge is power, it affects the prosperity of both. It is the aim of this paper to examine the implications of boundaryless careers on individual and organisational learning.
2. The concept of ‘boundaryless’ career
To discuss the concept of ‘boundaryless careers’ it is perhaps best to start by defining careers themselves. Careers are “accumulations of information and knowledge embodied in skills, expertise, and relationship networks acquired through and evolving sequence of work experiences over time” (Bird, 1994, p326). A traditional career, or ‘bounded career’, is typified by a clearly defined career path through an organisational hierarchy. Boundaryless career is the opposite of a ‘bounded’ career (Arthur, 1994), and is promoted by globalisation and technological change (Arthur and Rousseau, 1996). Organisational boundaries that once existed, and provided security, are no longer.
Boundaryless career involves movement across boundaries. These boundaries may be hierarchical levels, job functions, organisations (Arthur, 1994; Defillippi and Arthur, 1994, Stone, 2005), occupations, industries, geographies, work/non-work (Stahl and Cerdin, 2004); or, perhaps more correctly, it offers an opportunity for movement rather than movement per se (Arthur et al. 2005). The organisation itself is less important in boundaryless careers as individuals define themselves according to their occupation rather than the organisation (King et al. 2005; Dowd and Kaplan, 2005; Mirvis and Hall, 1994; Loogma et al. 2004). With this focus on the occupation, individuals take charge of personal and career development (Arthur and Rousseau, 1996; Arthur, 1994; Bird, 1994) to ensure their long term employability within or outside of the organisation. In that regard, boundaryless career has similarities with protean careers – as individuals themselves take charge of their own careers and adapt to changing environments (Mirvis and Hall, 1994).
Boundaryless career is usually pursued by, but it may affect, young, independent, highly-skilled people (Loogma et al. 2004; Peel and Inkson, 2004), with a proactive personality (Seibert et al. 2001) or workaholics (Dowd and Kaplan, 2005); and may also affect low-skilled workers due to downsizing or restructuring (Peel and Inkson, 2004; Bird, 1994). It is sustained by extra-organisational networks and connections, which are pursued for personal reasons (Arthur, 1994; Dowd and Kaplan, 2005), and since it is cyclical, it demands periodic re-skilling (Mirvis and Hall, 1994).