Where will future jobs come from? There are few questions that I get asked more than this one. It is becoming generally accepted that the fall off in jobs that came with the great recession in the States and the age of austerity in Europe, may not come back, at least not in the same numbers and at the same quality and pay. People going back to work as the recession has wound down have often ended up in jobs that pay less and are lower level than the job they lost. Is this the future?
I personally recall two other times, after the recessions of the early 1980’s and the early 1990’s when the conventional wisdom was that we had entered a new era of jobless growth. Each of those times the conventional wisdom was wrong, and new inventions, new economic opportunities and an expanding global economy eventually produced huge numbers of new, good jobs. Still, might this be the time that the prediction of a jobless future comes true?
I do not think so. I believe that history is more likely to repeat itself and produce unprecedented levels of employment in the coming two decades. But I use the term employment carefully, because I do think that the nature of work is changing, a lot. Define a job as going to work for someone else, doing work you are largely instructed to do, for a given time each day and each week, in a position that is going to last for many years, in exchange for which you receive “security” in the form of pay and health care and retirement benefits. That world is indeed disappearing. What is different looking ahead is that employment will be more individualized, more stint-based, more oriented toward entrepreneurship and solopreneurs, and in most cases require an up-skilling of more of the workforce.
This requires a re-thinking of many things. Jay Ackroyd points out that the required re-thinking is broad in scope:
If we’re entering a world of job-shifting entrepreneurship, with high-risk/high-reward opportunities for the talented and diligent,* then we need a government that provides a foundation for that world. That means not just a really solid set of social insurance programs independent of people’s jobs, like health care and pensions, but also a stronger basic infrastructure.
Pull optical fiber to every post office and set up public wireless. Give everyone a bank account at the Fed. Restore access to inexpensive higher education. Stop the copyright and patent madness. The best public policy in Tommy’s [Thomas Friedman] world would eliminate the parasitic monopolists choking off innovation and opportunity.
We are not there yet, but should go there. Interestingly one of the institutions focusing on jobs is the Federal Reserve Bank of the U.S. They have been charged with a mission by their directors to help the nation focus on how to develop the workforce of the future. To that end one the things they have been doing is to sponsor and host conferences on future workforce training. I’ve had the opportunity to provide keynote speeches to two of them, last Fall in Kansas City, and in January of 2013 in Atlanta. The latter was a special gathering of the Presidents of Historically Black Colleges and Universities. That program was not recorded, but the earlier event in Kansas City was video recorded, and highlight videos were produced. You can see several of them here.
My keynote speech that kicked off that conference was excerpted in the video below. Fast forward to the 7:50 mark if you want to see what I had to say about the digital native generation and the knowledge value economy and what they mean for the future of work.