You might recall the film ‘The Perfect Storm’ with George Clooney.  It should have been blue skies and plain sailing for the highly experienced skipper and his crew – except for a combination of events and conditions that no one saw coming. If only they’d taken a different course.

If you are a senior manager aged 45-55 – there’s a kind of perfect storm coming your way – but this time it’s your career that’s likely to be experiencing rough seas. The question is, will it sink you – or is there a way to calmer waters?

The demographic storm

The Office of National Statistics report that there are about nine million people in 45-55 age group. If you are one of them you may be asking yourself “what is going to happen to me in the next ten years?”

The people who came before us found that the number of more senior people at work was lower (less competition, plenty of roles to move into), and they could also develop their careers in the comfort that there was a bulge of supply coming through (plenty of people for them to manage).

The challenge for anyone aged 45-55 is that we are now that bulge. We are an ageing working population and, as we age, we are competing for the same jobs and facing younger competition.

And, what’s more, who are we going to manage? The increasing number of project workers, the self employed, those riding the gig economy, those that might feel they don’t need managing? There are less people needing our managerial skill sets.

So, where does that leave you?

Perhaps you are working in an organisation where the age profile and the opportunities for advancement are not as great as you might have hoped. Then there’s the increasing requirement for de-layering organisations, reducing the number of people in different parts of the pyramid, creating the flatter organisation and the threat of artificial intelligence replacing some of the technical skills of some of the younger people you would otherwise be managing.

It’s a combination of events sending our careers directly into the eye of that perfect storm.

What can you do to take control of your career?

Do you still believe that the organisation you work for is going to look after you and manage your career? Really? You need to consider taking control over your working life. And please also stop thinking that your professional institution is going to enable you to have a clear pathway to the future. That’s wishful thinking too.

It’s time to think about setting out on autonomous career. And as you step into those responsibilities you have a number of choices.

What about an MBA?

One might be to do an MBA. But for the 45-55 age group that’s less of a differentiator than it might have been in the past – and it’s also probably too late to be of benefit.

Increasingly we are seeing younger people do a masters straight after their degree programme and we see MBA students coming in earlier and earlier in their working lives. So just upgrading your academic qualifications is not necessarily going to be the key to helping you to compete.

What are the other grounds on which you can compete? 

Increase your soft skills

One of the big ways to take better control of your career is to increase your soft skills. To strengthen your capability as a leader and as a manager. Probably the most powerful way to do that is actually to get some coaching training. This is not to suggest that your future should be as a coach, but the skills that you develop as a coach will be very powerful in enabling you to be the collaborative, influencing manager and leader that you need to be.

Develop your sales skills

Alongside coaching, I would suggest that you make sure you have some sales skills. This may feel very uncomfortable for most of the people reading this who are not sales people. Many of you will be technicians or managers and do not see sales as part of what you want to do. But if you want to take control of your career then you are going to have to understand how to sell, how to enable people to buy you and the services or products that you want to carry with you. It requires you to invest in having some basic skills about understanding how to identify and respond to the needs of people who are going to provide you with a livelihood in the future.

Build and manage your network

This is more than just having lots of LinkedIn connections or going to a few industry seminars. It is actually about making intelligent choices to improve and manage your relationships on an ongoing basis, not just within your industry or amongst your peers, but in fact much more widely. Because your network is the key to you building an autonomous career.

In conclusion

We are living and working in challenging times and, as we’ve shown, events can combine to make navigating through it decidedly choppy. But, as in any voyage, there are beacons that help you get back on course, weather the storm and take back control of your own ship.

You need to be ready to re-skill yourself, or extend your skills, so that you are going to be able to compete in that new world. Whatever stage you are at, you won’t go far wrong if you develop better sales skills, build some coaching skills and understand how you can be more intentional about your networking.

And, if you are curious about another pathway you could take, one that comes with all the support of people who have successfully navigated their own career freedom, click here.

Charles McLachlan is the founder of FuturePerfect and on a mission to transform the future of work and business. The Portfolio Executive programme is a new initiative to help executives build a sustainable and impactful second-half-career. Creating an alternative future takes imagination, design, organisation and many other thinking skills. Charles is happy to lend them to you.