The tectonic shift from full time jobs to flexible and temporary work
AP published this story over the weekend, entitled Dropouts: Discouraged Americans Leave Labor Force. The main idea is that many working age Americans are leaving the workforce, either by retiring early, staying in school, leaving entirely, or going on disability. This quote says it all:
“I chose to stop and take a step back for a while … After you’ve seen that amount of rejection,” she says, “you start thinking, ‘What’s going to make this time any different?’ “
From my perspective as an Executive Coach who has volunteered a lot of hours at the Chicago Career Transition Center, I have come to believe that we have several structural problems, not merely the usual cyclical recessionary one. These problems are as follows:
- The economy has shifted, the full-time permanent “job” is no longer the organizing principle of labor
- Our laws and systems (health care, benefits) are set up around full time permanent jobs, not the growing sphere of alternative work
- Most people think they know how to find work, but they don’t
Goosing the economy through fiscal stimulus or monetary policy doesn’t address these issues, that’s like putting more gas in the tank when your transmission is broken. We need to accept that change is happening, and adapt to it. The new normal is here and it’s not going away. My observation is that fewer men than women are seeing and accepting this new world, and I’m sad about that, we have a lot to offer.
So, the basic problem is that companies aren’t hiring full time workers. Why not? Because hiring, firing, training, and insuring workers is expensive and risky, so they’re not doing it. That makes sense for each company, but it hurts the economy as a whole. Now, a growing economy will reduce the risk of having to lay people off in a downturn, but beyond that, companies still don’t want to hire, they don’t know if they’ll need you in five or ten years’ time, and that’s not going to change. The “job for life” is dead, folks. Hell the “job” itself is dying, and while it will never truly go away, just like farmers didn’t go away, although like farmers, it will become a smaller and smaller sector of the economy. What we’re seeing instead is more consulting, contracting, temp work, entrepreneurship, in all sectors, from blue collar to executive. If you can accept this concept and learn to keep your pipeline full, it actually gives you more freedom to string together different types of work that better fits your life at the moment.
However, our current economic environment makes this harder than it needs to be. Ask any freelancer who has tried to get health insurance, especially if they have any pre-existing condition. All sorts of laws and systems, from employer-provided health insurance to unemployment insurance (which helps you if you lose your JOB, but doesn’t help if you have a dry spell between assignments) to applying for a mortgage are based upon the “job,” and that’s true for fewer and fewer people. I personally know many couples where one spouse has a job with benefits, and the other is a freelancer or consultant (who sometimes makes more money, but doesn’t have the benefits). This is great for couples, but it doesn’t work for singles, and it also puts a lot of pressure on the person with the job to stay. If we want to unleash our entrepreneurial mojo, we need to change our policies to free people up to take on different kinds of work without taking undue risks for their families. We also need systems which match skills to demand for those skills. The current mix of temp agencies and every-man-for-himself freelancing is inadequate to the task. We need a “clearing mechanism” to match people to opportunities.
Lastly, so many people simply don’t know how to find work. They reply to postings online. Applying online feels good because you can do several of these per day and it seems like you’re getting somewhere. The problem is, it doesn’t work. Seriously, ask around, how many people got their job recently by applying online? A job opening may get 1000 or more resumes, and unless you are an exact match, you won’t even get noticed. Even if you are an exact match, you may not get noticed if your resume is # 700 of 1000. My experience has shown me that the best way to get a job is to pick a very specific target job, make a list of 10 – 20 organizations, and start meeting with people at those jobs and forming relationships. This method is slow, sometimes painfully so, and it requires managing the logistics of inviting people out to lunch and following up, and it means rejection and persistence…and it works. After 30 – 40 such meetings, you will start to get offers, often for jobs that have not been “posted” yet, so the competition is limited, or non-existent. For a more detailed overview of how to get work, read this workbook: Everything You Know About Job-Hunting is Wrong (Here’s How You Really Do It). It’s free and it’s short, and includes checklists.
So, bottom line is that the world of work has changed, and if we adapt, it can be wonderful, but if we keep trying to use yesterday’s tools to recreate yesterday’s world, we’re going to end up with a painful series of underemployed and discouraging tomorrows.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia commons