Terms such as creative destruction and disruptive innovation are increasingly being used lately to describe the current economic environment where jobs are being destroyed, created, and disrupted in ways that challenge the traditional wisdom for how individuals, employers, schools, and government programs should respond. Employers have trouble finding the skills they need, while job applicants can’t find jobs matching their skills. The cost of education continues to rise, while the value of certain types of education is being more closely scrutinized.
A recent CNN report noted that “at present job creation trends, it will take until 2021 to drive the unemployment rate down to a rate considered full employment.”
So what advice is there for the job seeker in an economy being characterized by the term jobless recovery? Are we really seeing a “new normal?”
Is the idea of a job obsolete?
Speaking of destruction, Forbes magazine recently had an article entitled The Death of Jobs, where the following question was posed: Is the death of jobs upon us? Here is what they concluded. “It’s probably time to re-examine the whole idea of exactly what a job is and whether or not the fundamental construct is even viable going forward. Let’s just skip to the answer: Jobs aren’t a viable construct going forward. The notion that most of us will earn our living in the future through an employee/employer relationship is headed for the scrap heap of economic history. The next two decades will pretty much cleanse us of the sport of waiting for the job creation numbers to come out.” According to Forbes we are moving from the current “job-centric” system we have, to an information-powered Individual Economy, and the transition is going to be painful and disruptive. Their advice to policy-makers is to embrace the reality and begin plotting a course that reduces the pain while we accelerate the transition.
What should workers and students do to prepare?
What advice should we give workers and students as we help them look at the current realities and current needs for incomes, while also keeping an eye on the distant horizon of the “Independent Economy?” The most important for both audiences may be developing a free agent mindset as a prerequisite for navigating the world ahead. The idea of all workers approaching the labor market with a free agency or self-employment mindset isn’t new. Daniel Pink wrote Free Agent Nation in 2001 and Cliff Hakim wrote We Are All Self-Employed in 2003. When asked about the secret of top performers at work, he replied: “Top performers don’t view themselves as employees. They don’t give up perceived control over their destiny. They see the employer as a means to an end – a client they want to work ‘with’ as a way to create a win-win scenario. . . . . They plan their own futures and use the work they do with the employer to help them further their ambitions. They recognize they are their own boss and the employer is a consumer – an entity they must please to stay in business, but one that can be replaced, or even fired, as long as they keep their business relevant and in-demand.”
To a large degree, students today will need to come out of school with the ability to invent a job, not just find a job. That job may be a niche that needs to be filled in a big company or starting an entirely new business. Basic grounding in language and math is still essential, but specific skills and motivation will matter even more. Wagner concludes that “Motivation is the most critical. Young people who are intrinsically motivated – curious, persistent, and willing to take risks – will learn new knowledge and skills continuously. They will be able to find new opportunities or create their own – a disposition that will be increasingly important as many traditional careers disappear.” The challenge for educators will be to identify the motivations of students and then fan the flames of their natural curiosity while emphasizing the development of skills needed to navigate the new economy.
A group of regional business, community, and education leaders in Northwest Indiana, the READY NWI initiative, is currently working to address these issues that are critical for our region’s growth and prosperity. One current program is focused on increasing math skills of middle school and high school students with assistance from employers showing the students how the skills translate to real jobs at their places of business. In a region where success has been driven in large part by the manufacturing and transportation sectors, we will need to keep a close eye on the new drivers. Understanding our roots as a “Make It-Move It” region while introducing a new rallying cry of “Math and Motivation” is a major step in the right direction, a step we must take.