Future of Work – No jobs by 2030?

Thomas Power makes the assertion that there will be no jobs by 2030 in the excellent Smarta ebook Smartest Brains 2010 and beyond!

Meanwhile Seth Godin pleads with us to become indispensable in his latest book Linchpin arguing that the Industrial Age model of work is over – therefore if your current job involves tasks that can be broken down into process-driven bits then you can kiss this job goodbye in the not too distant future due to a combination of globalisation and automation.

Are they right? Dan Pink argued along similar lines a few years back in A Whole New Mind and there’s little doubt that our concept of work has to change in today’s Knowledge Economy.  We are now paid to think rather than do.

I suspect that by 2030 manual jobs will still exist at the lower end but perhaps the real risk lies in store for middle-managers and professionals with process driven roles. We have already seen this emerging in the latest recession with the introduction of the 4 day work week and mass redundancies. Highly educated professionals, particularly those in their late 40s-50s who have followed the accepted path, have been left feeling disillusioned – and unsure where to turn next…

Has the Industrial Age managed to turn us all, including educated professionals, into dependants? If so, we now need to rediscover our latent entrepreneurial talents and tolerance for change and instability (not something that most of us are naturally predisposed towards).

I believe we will see 2 primary worker-types emerge over the next 10-20 years:

  1. Highly networked freelance workers
  2. Portfolio workers

The highly networked worker represents an entrepreneurial type.  Someone who runs one or more businesses, probably mostly outsourced.  This would also encompass certain professionals who are deep specialists in their area of expertise and are called into teams to work on specific assignments on a project-by-project basis. These people are the more entrepreneurial types and may well have left the corporate world to do their own thing at some stage in the future anyway.

The biggest change would be for the newly labelled portfolio worker. These are the people who would have quite happily worked for the same company for life – or at least for many years, perhaps choosing only to move on to another steady job if things changed for the worse or there was an opportunity for promotion and progression elsewhere. Rather than have one job – they might end up with 1,2,3,4,5,6,7 day-jobs per week? A day here and a day there.

The latter model may initially sound unappealing, however, as I discussed with Ian Sanders, adopting a portfolio or plurality approach to work opens up new and exciting opportunities. Imagine if your average week went from working 9-5 for the same company to say:

  • Monday – fulfilling orders, marketing and general running of online home business.
  • Tuesday – work for Company A as a part-time financial director (FD)
  • Wednesday – charitiable activities e.g. tending to trustee responsibilities and planning events
  • Thursday – mixed day. Update books for online home business am. Complete freelance financial consulting work pm.
  • Friday – back to Company A for the day as FD

Think how much Company A would benefit from a fresh, revitalised worker plus the insights gained from the plurality of work. Likewise, from the portfolio worker’s perspective, think about the variety enjoyed in a working week by adopting a portfolio or freeformer approach.

It is easy to paint a gloomy picture of the future of work. We need to remind ourselves that the Industrial Age has only been in existence for 100+ years and we were self-sufficient for 1000’s of years before this Age of Dependency.

By preparing ourselves now both mentally and practically, the future of work looks exciting and I suspect that in years to come people will look back and think that the concept of a Job for Life was a missed opportunity rather than the panacea that we all grasp after today.

Look forward to your comments and thoughts.

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