Does your job look like this?

It seems to be a consensus: traditional employment is over, at least for a large segment of the economy. So if not traditional employment, then what? What can professionals do in the face of new realities?

I don't know that this is necessarily anything new, but rather a return to the old. Perhaps we were living in a world of anomaly in the post-World War II era. But the claim - or, perhaps more accurately, observation - is that employment with a larger company - say IBM, or AT&T, or even Google - for a long term employment is over.

This is old news in a way, but the twist on it is that the concept of "job" altogether is changing. It's not like, instead of lifetime employment with one company, you get steady employment with several.

The reality is that you need to set up multiple sources of income, some active, and some passive, and that assignments are tending to get shorter and shorter - from a few months to a year or two.

In so many ways this trend presents opportunity. The experience gained over a ten year period of this is tremendous when compared to the prior alternative, albeit with a lot of jarring change and instability. But for the goodness in this to be realized, we need to recognize that a lot of things are out of sync with this new reality:

  • Health insurance is often tied to employment, and needs to be more portable
  • Common financial wisdom is that you need to save 10% a year for retirement, if you have 10% downtime, you may not even be saving!
  • Perhaps we need to save 10-20% during good income periods to make up for the bad! But is the income 10-20% more than what we need to get by?
  • How do we handle the rough patches in between gigs? (It's one thing to learn how to handle it, but another to learn without crashing and burning!)
  • Education should be more traditional (liberal arts prepares for anything - one comment said read the classics, as they will prepare you for anything)
  • Learn immediate skills along the way to gain employment or to get up to speed on specifics, realizing that you are building on your prior educational foundation.

There is a great article on LinkedIn on this topic, entitled, "Jobs are Over: The Future is Income Generation", by Heather McGowan, Academic Entrepreneur and Innovation Strategist. You may want to check it out - as well as the comments.

I especially noticed a lot of negativity in the comments - referring to descriptions of this new reality as "depressing", "bad", and "unfortunate"...and that with this evolutionary change that most people have "no control" of their destinies. It made me think of the book, "Who Moved My Cheese?." It made me wonder about how many people see the opportunities that exist?

People used to have a job for life...but now can change out of a bad one quickly, do new things, and become astounding ways that were previously impossible! People will not be entirely replaced by automation, as they never have been! After all, who will design, build, maintain, and change the automation?! There is always plenty of work to go around, but it's just that it shifts, and it's the disruptions that hurt.

However, I think that part of the shift is one from thinking that "the company will take care of me" to "I will take care of multiple things to provide an income" is a difficult and rocky shift, not a smooth ride, and a lot of people can and are getting hurt in the transition.

I think this trend in the long term is bursting with opportunity, and that over time the vast majority of people will do well. I just think the difficulty in the professional ranks is that people are not used to this kind of thinking. But in other areas - outside the professional ranks - I see terrific examples of people with the "right" mentality for this. For example, one man works construction during the week, and maintains numerous certifications required to keep a skill edge and practice his job during the week. On the weekends he has developed some landscaping contracts, and in addition owns some properties. This is great progress on his part to multiple streams of income in this new economy.

The limitation that people need to think about is time and energy. There are only 24 hours in a day, and we there are other things to life besides work. Perhaps automation can also help us as individuals, if we can use it to competitive advantage. Scarcity is the basis of economics, and it's staring us in the face in a new way - after perhaps and era where it existed, but we were insulated from it! Interesting times.