Kip Turner wasn’t necessarily planning on joining AT&T for his entire 50-year career when he applied there in 1973 — but that’s what’s happened, and he’s learned a lot about engineering and career longevity along the way.
Turner, now 68, first joined the company as a station installer when he was 18 years old, without a college degree, and with the idea he’d return to college to become a veterinarian.
Instead, over the next five decades, he took on about eight different roles across the engineering space, and he now works as a lead product development engineer near Faulkner County, Arkansas.
He’s also taken on plenty of younger mentees along the way and thinks that, despite today’s culture of job-hopping, even today’s young grads could build their own 50-year career.
“I think it’s possible,” Turner tells CNBC Make It. “I think it’s realistic — if that’s what you want to do.”
“In most younger employees that I’ve counseled, they don’t have the patience to stay at one one company for this long,” he adds.
From his perspective, Turner says the key to his 50-year career was staying focused on becoming an expert in his current role, and then learning to “be content with what you’re doing.”
Turner says he’s never been “especially aggressive” about trying to get promoted.
“I have always told my supervisors leave me alone,” he says. “Let me learn the job. If I want to change I’ll let you know. Whether it’s a different job, a lateral time move, or a promotion.”
Over the years, he’s learned of new opportunities by asking around among colleagues, and even letting his boss know. “I usually don’t think you have to tell your supervisor you’re applying for a position, but I always did,” Turner says. “And I’d tell them why — not that I’m unhappy, but I’m looking for a better opportunity, a different opportunity, or a higher salary.”
Even so, Turner applied to plenty of promotions and has been disappointed to not get them. “In most cases, I resolved to be happy in the [current] role,” he says.
Turner says it’s important to realize that you may not get a job or promotion because you’re not ready for it, and if you really want it, to use your time to learn the skills you’ll need to excel.
He recalls one role he applied to several times and was denied, “because, frankly, there was somebody else that was more qualified.” But in one case, the person in the role ended up leaving the company later on, “and I went to his boss and said, ‘here’s what I’ve been doing and I think I’m suited for this role.'” Turner applied and secured the role.
Most people quit due to low pay and little room for advancement, according to Pew Research Center. And many factors have made job-hopping more prevalent in recent decades, including slow wage growth, company strategies to hire externally, and the rise of online job search engines.
On the salary front, Turner admits, “I haven’t had a salary conversation with anybody in many years. So I don’t know if [young people are] content with their salary. Most of the time that’s why people are moving — they want better pay and benefits.” (Turner declined to share his salary with CNBC Make It.)
“I’ve been able, with a few exceptions, to make it on the salary that I’ve been paid all these years,” he adds. “There have been a few times early on where we had $10 left on Monday after payday, but that hasn’t happened very often.”
Beyond salary, Turner says he stayed engaged with his work at AT&T because of all the on-the-job training he’s been able to pursue and level up in his career.
Though Turner never went back for his college degree, he’s been able to take about “150 different training courses all over the country” to learn different engineering skills for his job, including skills that allowed him to transfer to new opportunities.
He strongly encourages young people to “take advantage of all of the training and education opportunities” a company offers, “whether it’s internal, whether it’s a tuition reimbursement, whether it’s allowing you time to go back to school,” Turner says. “It makes me wish that I had availed myself of all those years ago.”
At the end of the day, building a 50-year career comes down to “being content with your role and being content with your organization, ” Turner says.
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