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Navigating the New Career Landscape: Changing Perceptions of Career Progression

For most employees these days, the idea of holding on to the same job for many years — or even for an entire career — seems like a phenomenon of a bygone generation. Impressionistically, at least, it seems like nobody follows the old cliched career path from mailroom to boardroom anymore. Yet, is this a truly accurate picture of how Southeast Asians regard career progression? This is just one among many questions our Blackbox-ADNA careers study (June 2023) sought to find out when surveying more than 9,000 respondents across Southeast Asia.

Our study has uncovered valuable insights into career sentiments in the region, ranging across a host of areas, including whether career planning is more difficult today as compared to yesteryears, or if educational qualifications are still seen as important for bagging that high-paying job.

One big takeaway from our survey is the belief that mapping out a career path is harder today than it was 10 years ago – a sentiment shared by 64% of Southeast Asians. In Singapore, this perception is an overwhelming one, with 82% of respondents in the 35-49 year old age group feeling this way. In stark contrast, Vietnamese in the same age group feel this the least, with only 31% regarding career mapping as more difficult.

Among those who find it harder, when asked to rank the reasons why, our findings further revealed that 29% of respondents feel that there is less job stability today than there was 10 years ago, reflecting the changing dynamics of the labour market. This sentiment underscores the growing awareness that traditional notions of long-term employment are no longer guaranteed, perhaps fuelled by mass layoffs the world over making headlines regularly.

Moreover, 22% of respondents believe that the nature of work is changing at an accelerated pace, and this makes it difficult for them to have a fixed, clear plan of their career path ahead. In our opinion, this perception likely aligns with the uncertainty created for some by rapid advancements in technology and the increasing impact of automation on various industries. As job roles evolve and new opportunities emerge, workers are perhaps recognizing the need to be adaptable and flexible to secure their employment prospects.

Our survey also reveals that 21% of respondents feel that the most popular career paths have become more competitive, demonstrating a belief that the ‘better jobs’ are vacuuming in more talent and crowding the career ladder in those industries. This perception emphasises the importance of individuals finding ways to differentiate themselves and acquire skills that are in demand to give themselves a competitive advantage in the marketplace. Of course, one way to do that is through the right education, but as we will see, many Southeast Asians feel that their educational qualifications and their job scope is often a mismatch.  

Importance of Education Intact – Relevancy? Not So Much

Our survey shows that only 13% of respondents feel that their educational qualifications are ‘very relevant’ to the job they currently hold. In Singapore, this figure was only 7% – the lowest among all the six ASEAN countries surveyed. This statistic highlights the gap between the skills acquired through formal education and the evolving needs of the job market. As industries rapidly evolve, more employees are realizing the importance of continuous learning. It is noteworthy, however, that while the relevance of education is being questioned, not many are doubting its importance — with 95% believing that a university degree with top grades is a sure shot ticket to high paying job. 

Better Pay and Job Security Continue to Influence Career Choices

While our study has found that the way certain careers are perceived today is shifting, some traditional notions such as job security and high pay remain as key considerations for employees when choosing a career. When asked what they deemed to be the top two most desirable careers in the job market today for young people, 49% of respondents across age groups chose Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning. Interestingly, 60% of those in the 50+ age group felt the same. That’s sage advice for the younger generation we suppose!

For those respondents who selected AI/Machine Learning as one of the two most desirable jobs, its relevance to the current societal landscape, higher pay, and better long-term job security, were the top three reasons for their choice. The present wall-to-wall coverage of the growth in these fields and the increasing demand for technological expertise within them is undoubtedly contributing to the perceived opportunities on offer.

Conversely, a mere 7% of Southeast Asians consider a career in environment and climate change solutions as desirable for young people, making it the least attractive of the career options listed. This finding might suggest that despite the growing awareness of environmental issues, individuals may perceive these fields as less financially rewarding, highlighting the need for  further awareness and incentives in this sector. More positive communication of the opportunities for money-making within the climate solutions field may also be effective in improving perceptions around this career choice.

The Blackbox Perspective: Embracing Flexibility for Better Career Navigation

As Southeast Asian workers witness the changing dynamics of the job market, they increasingly recognize the value of flexibility and adaptability. The ability to pivot, learn new skills, and balance personal and professional aspirations are now seen as crucial elements of job security. While stability in a position clearly remains important to Southeast Asian employees, the understanding that flexibility can provide resilience in the face of uncertainty is gaining prominence.

By embracing these principles and recognizing the importance of equipping workers to be ready for the changing demands of the workplace, employers can create an environment where employees can confidently progress on their career paths in an ever-changing and dynamic professional landscape. It is crucial for employers to shun the traditional notion of equating longevity with stability, particularly in an era where a single technological innovation has the potential to disrupt job markets worldwide. Instead, employers should foster a healthy focus on ensuring that employees’ skillsets continue to evolve towards a generalist rather than a specialist outlook, while also leveraging new tools and technologies to help them perform their jobs better and more efficiently.

This is the latest in a continuing series of articles Blackbox will be publishing in the coming months on the evolving perceptions of career attractiveness and related issues in Asia. For assistance in devising a strategic vision that aligns with your company’s workforce goals, reach out to us at

Author: Blackbox Research Team


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