What some are calling the Roaring 2020s may be a time when innovation is adopted rapidly on a global scale, establishing the new career economy, where time and distance no longer matter. The labor experts and historians will pontificate about this moment, declaring a new epoch and debating if remote work is permanent or transitory and how the fluidity of labor affects the global economy. After all this talk, the real question is how does this impact you? How are you going to navigate what I’ve been calling the new career economy for decades?
While the term “telecommuting” was coined back in the early 1970s by former NASA employee Jack Nilles, the reality is that even into the early 2000s it was more concept than reality. The technology wave had yet to reach the critical adoption levels needed to create a society convergence. In the 1980s we learned a new word — “outsourcing” — but that did not seem to impact the white-collar class. However, if you fast-forward to today and think the practice of outsourcing applies to manufacturing, customer service or IT positions, that was just the start. Some large global chains are now taking part in the process. Some of McDonald’s franchise locations are using a voice assistant to take orders at their drive-thru windows. Instead of having your high school son or daughter pick up a few dollars working at a fast-food restaurant, those duties could now become automated.
The foundation of work stability has been crumbling for a while. As the New York Times once put it, “It is highly unusual in today’s economy for a person to work all his life for one company. In such fields as aerospace and electronics, mergers take place, contracts fluctuate, work opportunities change, and workers have to go where the jobs are.”
That was from an article with the headline, “The Case of the Disappearing Pension,” an article written in 1972. Still, throughout the 1970s and 1980s, plenty of people did have pension and retirement packages, but the idea of a company you work for providing a complete retirement package has been antiquated for some time.
Today is becoming another story entirely. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and an ongoing study that was first started in 1979 and involved surveying 9,964 men and women, individuals born in the later years of the Baby Boom (1957-64) have held an average of 12.4 jobs from ages 18 to 54.
The BLS report showed that among individuals who started jobs while ages 35 to 44, the average individual had 26% of those jobs end in less than a year and 61% end in fewer than five years. One can only imagine what the average number of jobs during a lifetime will someday be for those who are just starting out in their careers.
The point is that our careers are often changing. They have been for some time, and it is getting worse. According to the Pew Research Center, from February 2020 to February 2021, 2.4 million women and 1.8 million men left the labor force, meaning they aren’t working or even looking for work.
People are overwhelmed. If you’re one of them, you need to find a way to not feel battered by your career. I know that’s easy to say and not easy to do. But this influx of job instability isn’t changing.
How to prepare for the new career economy. The first step is simply accepting the new reality. It isn’t that you can’t find one job that will last for decades. Some people still do, which can offer stability and comfort. But I would try to convince you that you’d be better served to keep an open mind and recognize that there may be an improved path for you in this new career economy. Keep in mind that the average person changes jobs 12 times in their lifetime and the average employee stays with their employer for 4.1 years.
This new work world is full of surprising, exciting opportunities. It should only be overwhelming if you allow it to be. There are several options available if you are willing to invest in your career and take ownership of it. You can become a consultant, be awarded a franchise or start a completely new business from scratch, but as I see it, it all starts with a conversation with a career ownership coach.
Even if that isn’t your plan, everybody is going to need to adopt an ownership mindset to get ahead in the world. That isn’t a bad thing. You are just reframing how you think about your career. You should never think of a job possibly ending as something to dread or a source of discouragement, but as a chance to find something better and to learn new skills. That can be an opportunity to become even more valuable as an employee or a business owner in the future.
If your goal isn’t to be a business owner, you at least should start thinking about yourself as a business.
You need to be in the business of you.
It is important to promote yourself as one of the best professionals around, and you can only do that if you are continually learning new skills and embracing new experiences. Your résumé should always be updated and something that you’re continually working on, rather than putting it in a Word document and letting it grow stale over time.
That may sound like an unnerving way to live, continually working on a résumé and looking over your shoulder, wondering if a job is going to end. If you do it right, however, it can be an empowering way to go about your career.
Having an updated résumé and taking advantage of new training that an employer offers can keep you best positioned in your career. You can also work with career ownership coaches and constantly explore all the interesting opportunities that become available. Along the way, you may soon stop fearing the new career economy and start embracing it.