Engaging Conflict for Fun and Profit:  Current and Emerging Career Trends in Conflict Resolution

 

Part I—Field Findings on Career Trends

 

Robert J. Rhudy

 

State by state and across the country, increasing numbers of people annually are seeking to enter the conflict resolution work stream.  The number of gateways to this diverse field—undergraduate and graduate programs, training courses, volunteer opportunities—has also expanded substantially in recent years.  A few central questions loom, however:  Are there jobs existing or pending to be filled proportionate to the number of career aspirants?  What are the career trends in this field?  More personally, how do I get such a job or make my way into conflict resolution work?  Finally, what can trade associations and other interested groups do to increase the opportunities for work in this field?

 

In March 2014 I published a 64-page report with this title addressing these issues following extensive research including interviews with conflict resolution leaders across the United States.  The report includes summaries of the individual interviews.  See, www.marylandmacro.org,“Publications/Media,” or www.mediate.com/articles/RhudyB1.cfm.  For the purposes of this report, I defined “Conflict Resolution” as including mediation, arbitration facilitation, ombuds services, conciliation, conflict coaching, conflict management, and conflict systems analysis and design.   In this “Part I - Field Findings on Career Trends,” I will briefly summarize my findings on current and projected trends for work opportunities in these conflict resolution areas.  In a second column to be published by ACR in a few weeks, I will summarize the recommendations on how to get work or make a career in conflict resolution, plus recommendations on what associations and other groups in our field should be doing to increase the demand for conflict resolution services and expand career opportunities for their providers.

 

I found that the current and projected career status for conflict resolution is mixed, particularly following some contraction in the funding and provision of such services in governmental settings beginning with economic recession beginning in 2008.  My tentative conclusions overall, however, included the following:

 

  • The numbers of people seeking to enter the conflict resolution field have expanded substantially in recent decades, which trend appears to be continuing.
  • The numbers of people teaching conflict resolution at the undergraduate, graduate and law school levels have grown substantially in recent years, resulting additionally in increasing research in the field.  I expect this academic pool to at least remain level for the near future but do not expect continued substantial growth as in recent years.
  • The use of mediation, arbitration, and related ADR services seems to be at least stable and likely continuing to expand in a broad range of private conflicts, with a perceived majority of such services provided by lawyers and retired judges.  A majority of people interviewed discussing this area believe that this expansion at some level will continue.
  • The picture is less clear regarding court-ordered mediations and related court-ordered services around the country beginning with the U.S. recession in 2008, with some state judiciaries cutting mediation services because of sharp cuts in court funding.  Such services appear to be stable or slightly increasing in some states, while declining sharply in others.  It is difficult to project the future trend in the provision of such services if court funding overall is restored in affected states, including whether such services will be restored at previous levels, will be provided by staff mediators, by compensated private mediators at current or reduced levels of compensation, by pro bono mediators, or otherwise, and whether court-ordered ADR services        across the country will continue to expand as in recent years pre-2008.     
  • Similarly, the use of private neutrals to provide a range of ADR services (e.g., mediation, public policy facilitation) for federal, state and local agencies seems to have somewhat contracted recently under cuts in public funding at almost all levels.  I found some mix of opinion whether such usage of private providers will rebound and expand again or will be otherwise provided by agency staff (see below) in some instances.
  • The provision of ADR services over recent years has expanded “in-house” by public agencies, private corporations, business, health care and educational institutions, and other major nonprofit entities.  Some people interviewed believe there has been some simultaneous contraction in the employment of external private ADR providers as a result.  Such services may be provided by institutional ombuds or other conflict managers on a full-time basis or as part of an employee's responsibilities.   This trend is expected to continue and likely grow.  A majority of people interviewed who commented on ombuds trends expect this employment category to continue to expand.
  • While community mediation and restorative justice programs around the country have suffered funding cuts from public and foundation sources in recent years, the leaders interviewed for this article expressed confidence in restored funding and continuing growth and development.
  • The use of ADR is growing around the world, and provides some work for U.S. mediators, arbitrators, and other ADR professionals, including in international peacebuilding and development programs for people with the requisite skills, education, and experience.
  • The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in May 2012 projected a 14% growth rate in the conflict resolution field for the period 2008-2018, which is faster than the projected growth rate for all occupations during this period of time.  The Bureau estimated in its May 2012 report that the median salary for full-time employment of conflict resolution “arbitrators, mediators and conciliators” was $61,280.  Annual income for such persons in private practice varies widely, with the perception that high earners (making $200,000 and sometimes much more annually) are primarily lawyers and retired judges.  I suspect that the income of such persons may not be reflected in the Bureau's median income report.

 

Our work is continuing to attract substantial numbers of students and people working in various professions and settings seeking to provide conflict resolution services on a full or part-time basis.   Conflict resolution will continue to be an attractive and competitive field.  The people I interviewed for this project offered a wealth of advice for individuals seeking to begin or expand their conflict resolution careers.  In my next ACR column I will summarize this body of career advice as well as these leaders' recommendations on what the conflict resolution community should do to expand conflict resolution career opportunities in the United States.

Part II—How to Get Work or Make a Career in Conflict Resolution; and What Our Community Can Do to Promote Career Opportunities

 

Robert J. Rhudy

 

ACR is web-publishing a digest of my report, “Engaging Conflict for Fun and Profit:  Current and Emerging Career Trends in Conflict Resolution” (March 2014) in conjunction with its two-part teleconference on this topic on August 5 and September 9, 2014 with presenters Peter Adler, Forrest “Woody” Mosten, and Bob Rhudy.  ACR published Part I of this digest earlier this month regarding “Field Findings and Career Trends,” and this Part II summarizes the recommendations for persons seeking to began or expand their work in conflict resolution and for what our community should do to expand public understanding and demand for such services.  The entire report is published at www.marylandmacro.org, “Publications/Media.”

 

How to Get Work and Make a Career in Conflict Resolution

 

The people interviewed for this report offered a wealth of advice for individuals seeking to begin or expand their work in conflict resolution or to develop a full-time career in the field.  I briefly summarized their lead recommendations and encouraged the reader to review their interview summaries attached and intended as an integral part of this report.

 

Some recommendations are directed at particular groups within the conflict resolution sector.  The majority of recommendations, however, are intended to have utility for a wide range of people seeking to enter or expand their work as conflict specialists. 

 

I appreciate the point raised by a number of people interviewed that “There is no clear career path into this kind of work.”  Despite this admonition, I identified for consideration some advice and general career models that I encountered in my interviews as well as in my personal working relationships and experiences and encourage a review of the entire article and leadership interview summaries.

 

1.  The Six Steps in Career Development:

 

            ●  Know Yourself

            ●  Know Your Craft

            ●  Know Your Market

            ●  Know Your Options

            ●  Know How to Promote Your Services

            ●  Know How to Plan

 

2.  Top Ten Career Development Recommendations:

           

  • Determine what you really want to do.  Identify and utilize your strengths; and identify and work to improve upon your weaknesses that can inhibit your marketing and services.
  • Get conflict resolution education and training.  Continue to expand your conflict resolution skill set.
  • Seek out internships and practicums and research opportunities in your preferred conflict resolution career areas.
  • Develop well-placed and supportive mentors and work with them for professional advancement and career placement.
  • Create and implement a career plan.  Perhaps work with a career coach to help develop a plan and stay on course.  Be willing to make revisions based on experience and feedback.
  • Get lots of mediation and other conflict resolution experience though volunteering, service on panels, and other approaches.  Seek out opportunities to practice and develop your skills. Offer to provide trainings in your specialty areas.
  • Network.  Build relationships with judges, lawyers, corporate, business, government, and nonprofit leaders and representatives in your desired conflict resolution working areas.  Join and become active in professional associations for your career field and conflict resolution.  Present workshops and publish.
  • Describe and explain the value of your services.  Advertise, including websites, mailings, brochures, blogs, and social media.  Repetition, repetition, repetition. 
  • Be entrepreneurial, enterprising, hard-working, confident, persistent and patient.
  • Put in your time and develop credibility while continuing to resolve conflicts and advance your career.

 

3.  Four Career Models for persons working as conflict specialists across a range of service areas:

 

            ●  Generalist

            ●  Specialist

            ●  Full-Time

            ●  Part-Time

 

Each of these models can be implemented in private practice or within public or private organizations and agencies, by solo practitioners or in professional organizations and nonprofit service providers.

 

What the Conflict Resolution Community Needs to Do to Promote Career Opportunities:

 

            ●  Continue to educate the general public and service consumers about the nature and value

                 of our work

 

            ●  Continue our work to define and establish our “profession” or “field”

 

            ●  Increase our efforts to assure the diversity of our providers and recipients

 

            ●  Increase the quality of information regarding career opportunities and approaches for

                people seeking to begin or expand their work in the field

 

Conclusion

 

The use of conflict resolution has clearly expanded a great deal over the past forty years through the contributions of many pioneers, visionaries and practitioners as they assist individuals, families, businesses, and society to manage and resolve their conflicts.  Because so many people are attracted to careers in conflict engagement, I expect that we will continue to hear that “supply exceeds demand,” but I am not sure this diagnosis is a chronic problem if aspirants can receive relevant information to make realistic educational and career decisions and gain access to guidance on how to plot their paths.  Ours will continue to be an attractive and competitive field and entrants will experience widely varying levels of success, enjoyment and satisfaction.  I predict that the delivery, use and contributions of conflict management and resolution services will continue to evolve and grow with the involvement of its new and increasingly experienced participants.