The Future of Work: The New Age of Employment
How to stay relevant and what employers need to think about in the future
For the past century, the work of every car designer has focused on one central activity – driving!
The art of creating the perfect human-to-car driving experience has been extremely complicated, with people coming in a variety of shapes and sizes and the car itself evolving into far more than a machine.
Their work involved the sculpting of controls, indicator lights, knobs, buttons and gauges into the best possible dashboard to support the driver and his or her all-important steering wheel. The right combination of shapes, styles, sounds and tiny nuanced details had us “oohing” and “aahing” as it purred its way into our imaginations.
But that was then.
Those skills have quickly become last week’s news.
As cars start to drive themselves, designers have had to radically shift their thinking. Once the primary activity of driving disappears, designers have begun to focus on all the other activities happening inside a vehicle – sitting, talking, eating, sleeping, playing games, watching movies, looking out the window and talking to the navigation system.
In just a matter of months, virtually everything that car designers learned over the past 120 years has been thrown into a no-longer-needed heap, and the tools and information base that has been formed around the craft-of-the-creator has had to begin again.
Once the primary task of the auto designer has been automated out of existence, the entire profession will have to reframe its thinking around a new set of goals, principals and requirements.
Employment ads for next-generation designers will begin to describe the skills they’re looking for in radically different ways. Luminaries of the past will quickly be relegated to the vestiges of time as the accomplishments of the future form around an entirely new vocabulary.
Logically, we wonder if this signals the start of a new profession or simply a variation of the skills and talents that led us to this point.
To be sure, car designers are just one example of this kind of transformation.
One quick survey of the employment landscape and we begin to see unusual new experiences rising in importance in numerous industries. As task upon task become automated out of existence, we find ourselves asking the same question: “Does this constitute an entirely new profession, or simply a modification of the old one?”
Throughout history we’ve seen many examples of old-school thinking that has faded away. As an example, we no longer need to understand map legends, party lines, how to apply brakes on a horse-drawn carriage, read electrical meters or use a toll booth. The vast majority of us will never have to learn how to shoe-a-horse, milk a cow, treat animal bites, tan a hide, shovel coal or pasteurize milk.
In the future, very few will know how to change channels on a three-remote television, connect to Wi-Fi, order something without talking, open a bank account or pay with cash.
The demands of life are changing, and so are the prospects for employment.
THE NEW EMPLOYER-EMPLOYEE RELATIONSHIP
At a recent “Future of Work” roundtable discussion hosted by the Siemens Corporation at their Princeton Robotics Plant, participants were asked what employers need to think about in the future.
Dr. Kurt Bettenhausen, senior VP of technology for Siemens began by discussing the company’s lengthy interview process – four to eight hours in most cases – and the primary characteristics he’s looking for – curiosity and the use of the word “no” (he rarely hires “yes” people).
Our litigious society has turned the hiring process into a minefield of legal requirements, and ferreting out great candidates has become a laborious process.
Looking at employment through a different lens, I have focused on the shifting skillsets needed for the future.
The skills that will be most in-demand in the future will be some of the hardest to train – resilience, resourcefulness and flexibility.
In addition, having a solid understanding of how to better manage the encroaching demands of our online existence with skills such as distraction management, technology management, relationship management, opportunity management and just staying relevant.
We are now aware of far more of what’s happening in the world than ever before, and our ability to assess, gauge and monitor its importance and somehow act or respond in appropriate fashion has become critical.
THE GROWING COLLEGE DEBATE
Do people still need college degrees to succeed?
While there are countless reports published that show college graduates earning far more than those without degrees, I have yet to see a report that compares similar-caliber individuals who take opposing college vs. no-college career paths.
Many of our highest paying jobs in fields like computer programming, cyber security, real-estate brokers, plumbers, cloud architects, crime scene detectives and web developers typically don’t require a degree at all.
Virtually any bright student can learn a marketable skill in just a few months, and with several years of solid work experience under their belt by the time their counterparts graduate from college, non-degreed workers often have an easier time navigating the employment landscape.
Once a person has developed a marketable skill, they can take control their own destiny, and building a “business of one” career path on their way to becoming an accomplished freelancer.
OUR EMERGING FREELANCE ECONOMY
The internet is a very sophisticated communications tool, enabling us to align the needs of a business with the talent of individuals more precisely than ever before. Rather than hiring someone full-time, companies can create short-term contracts of two months, two weeks, two days or even two hours.
Our tools for managing this type of work relationship are getting better and will soon give us the ability to apply the precise talent, as needed, whenever a new situation arises.
While we’re getting better at the employer side of this equation, we’re still faring poorly when it comes to training next-generation freelancers. To thrive in this type of work environment, solo practitioners need a wide range of business skills ranging from creating a business entity, to writing business proposals, to negotiating contracts, marketing, accounting and much more.
Yes, there’s a big difference between a newbie freelancer and one who’s a total rockstar, but it all begins with taking that first bold step, and that’s where controlling one’s own life journey starts making sense.
Here are some numbers to give a quick overview of the rapidly changing freelance landscape:
- 70 percent of small businesses have hired a freelancer in the past
- 81 percent plan to hire freelancers in the future
- 52 percent of hiring managers say that the number of freelancers will increase in the next five years
- 59.7 million people worked as freelancers in 2018
- 52 percent of freelance work comes from repeat customers
- Full-time freelancers average 4.5 clients a month
- 50 percent of freelancers say they wouldn’t take a traditional job no matter how much they were offered
- 17 percent of freelancers in 2018 will earn over $100,000
- One-third of U.S. office workers have a second job
- 1.3 million people drive Uber, many doing this as a fill-in for other freelance work
- In 2027, at current growth rates, the number of freelancers will exceed the number of full time employees
Contrary to what many are led to believe, we’re entering a world of super employment. Prospective employees will have more choices than ever, and the freelance world will provide an alluring alternative to traditional employment.
Over the coming two decades we will witness an unprecedented wave of innovation and creativity driven by new tools of production. During this time we will see an explosion of over 100,000 new micro industries that will employ hundreds of millions of people.
Driven by a wide array of emerging technologies, an assortment of innovative playgrounds for makers, inventors and startup junkies will spring to life, launching micro industries that range from manufacturing products, to collecting data, designing systems, advising, coaching, monitoring, building, disassembling and reinventing business in unique ways.
With the help of thousands of collaborators, micro industries will spring to life around niches far too small for existing industries to care about today. But it is in these minuscule advances that great opportunities take root.
A simple coffee mug can be redesigned in thousands of different ways. The same holds true for every toothbrush, piece of clothing, ink pen, lamp, chair and hundreds of other frequently bought consumer products.
We are entering an unusually creative period of human history. Those who embrace this kind of change will prosper, and companies that study and embrace this fluid “jobscape” will build flourishing enterprises in the years ahead.