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The Future of Work: Training a Generation for DIY

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Labor’s “9 to 5” and other relics


Work keeps changing before our eyes.
The front page story in yesterday’s StarTribune (Adam Belz: ‘Free agent’ is new face of workforce) showed how, in various ways, the traditional job was dead. This is not new news, but rather validation of the point Daniel Pink anticipated in his 2001 Free Agent Nation. Pink’s was an optimistic story, where people learn to package their skills to move from opportunity to opportunity. In Pink’s telling, talented people willingly embraced the opportunity and were motivated by a number of factors to skip out of cookie-cutter jobs. Pink and Belz both acknowledge that this is not for everybody, though Belz cited Kelly Services research to show just how common free agency has become 12 years after Pink’s book was published:

The economy is shifting beneath the feet of workers, pushing a growing share of them into the role of independent contractor or consultant, temporary worker, freelancer and entrepreneur. More than 40 percent of American workers classified themselves as a “free agent” by the start of 2012, according to Kelly Services research, a huge jump from 2008, when 26 percent of workers gave themselves that label.

My history with corporations is vastly different from my fathers. Layoffs were unheard of when I was growing up. People stayed with jobs for a lifetime: my father retired from IBM after 30+ years. But when I started work with Honeywell, the company was laying off thousands of workers, year after maddening year. Waiting for the axe to swing your direction was part of the corporate ethos. And nearly everyone I know (an entire generation of workers) has experienced lay-offs and downsizing in one form or another.

Corporate treatment of people as tools to be used or disposed of may be creating something that corporations will eventually regret: a generation with outsized problem-solving skills and a taste for independence. Current work conditions may be creating a generation simply unwilling to be force fit into a corporate job and unwilling to endure the politics and territory-defending commonplace in corporate life. The generation growing up watching their parents and peers worry about corporate axing may simply choose to avoid the entire thing, choosing to not have their difference-making diminished by someone else’s mandates.

There may come a time when people actually don’t want a 9 to 5 job because they understand the promise of stability is illusion and making their own way is actually more secure. I know that’s a big part of the message I’ll deliver when I teach my next college freelance copywriting class. The message goes something like this: corporations are a place to start, but not a place to stay.

Loyalty to corporate life will take a permanent hit with the free agent generation. Not everyone wants to be a free agent, but for those who do and find a way to do it successfully, corporations will pay a high price for certain skills and still never own them.


Image credit:  psychedelicbox via 2headedsnake

Written by kirkistan

September 2, 2013 at 8:17 am

One Response

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  1. “The economy is shifting beneath the feet of workers”, that to me is the crossroads that the working environment stands at now.

    Photography Journal Blog

    September 25, 2013 at 6:50 am

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