September 16, 2011

The Future of Work

In the past week or so, there's been a number of articles about jobs and the future of work worth reading.

The Freelance Surge Is the Industrial Revolution of Our Time from the Atlantic.

Today, careers consist of piecing together various types of work, juggling multiple clients, learning to be marketing and accounting experts, and creating offices in bedrooms/coffee shops/coworking spaces. Independent workers abound. We call them freelancers, contractors, sole proprietors, consultants, temps, and the self-employed.

And, perhaps most surprisingly, many of them love it.

This transition is nothing less than a revolution. We haven't seen a shift in the workforce this significant in almost 100 years when we transitioned from an agricultural to an industrial economy.

What about those who are still looking for jobs?

Arnold Kling an economist/blogger writes about The Job-Seeker's Paradox

A job seeker is looking for something for a well-defined job. But the trend seems to be that if a job can be defined, it can be automated or outsourced.

The marginal product of people who need well-defined jobs is declining. The marginal product of people who can thrive in less structured environments is increasing.


The same technology that is eliminating jobs also connects us and empowers us in ways unimaginable just a few years ago. Maybe what’s becoming obsolete is not jobs per se, but the idea that they are something that you simply find.

Increasingly, perhaps, a job is something that we each have to create. We can’t count on someone else to create one for us. That model is disappearing. We have to carve something out for ourselves, something that the machines won’t immediately grab.

Who wants to be a corporate drone?

Megan McArdle The New New New Economy

Then the jobs started to go away and we discovered that many people like dreary predictability--at least, compared to the real-world alternative, which is risk.  What many, maybe most, people actually want, it turns out, is the creativity and autonomy of entrepreneurship combined with the stability of a 1950s corporate drone.  This is a fantasy, of course, but given their druthers, it's not clear that most people will pick risk over dronedom.

Walter Russell Mead Where Are the Jobs

It looks as if we are trapped: globalization is killing job growth in the tradable sector and we can’t all work for the government or in healthcare.  Burger flipping, many conclude, is the wave of the future; the middle class is doomed, and American standards of living are bound to decline....That could not be more wrong....

There is much more room for growth in non-traded services than people think.  Last spring Matt Yglesias had an important post that offered a glimpse of the promised land. In “The Yoga Instructor Economy” Yglesias pointed out that there will be a rising demand for personal services that can’t be outsourced.
Value added intermediation is the rationale for a whole range of services that entrepreneurs will be building in coming years.  You might have a family tech agent that for some reasonable fee reviews and manages your communications life...Similarly, many people would benefit from someone to help them navigate the healthcare system; somebody who understood your insurance, knew their way around the local medical system and was committed to helping you get the best treatment at the best price... 
These jobs will be in non-traded services and they will often be locally based.

Are jobs obsolete?

We start by accepting that food and shelter are basic human rights. The work we do -- the value we create -- is for the rest of what we want: the stuff that makes life fun, meaningful, and purposeful.

This sort of work isn't so much employment as it is creative activity. Unlike Industrial Age employment, digital production can be done from the home, independently, and even in a peer-to-peer fashion without going through big corporations. We can make games for each other, write books, solve problems, educate and inspire one another -- all through bits instead of stuff. And we can pay one another using the same money we use to buy real stuff.

After reading all these, The Education of Steve Jobs is particularly telling.    Schools are inhospitable environments for aspiring entrepreneurs.    Yet, it is precisely in becoming entrepreneurial that people will find the work they love and the success they want in the new, new economy.

Posted by Jill Fallon at September 16, 2011 9:55 PM | Permalink