Today’s Sydney Morning Herald has the following article on Gen-Y / Millennial attitudes to work:
This particular quote is telling:
“Once I get $1000 profit a week, I will think about [leaving]. I always call my day job my back-up plan.”
Rather than telling these kids to get off my lawn, I think the above comment shows a really deep, if perhaps intuitive, understanding of a global change taking place in the nature of work: the whole concept of ‘employment’ as it is traditionally understood is disappearing.
Strong words, but this is more profound than simply saying that people change jobs more often today than they did in the past. What we are talking about here is people not being, not wanting to be, or not able to be, employed any more. At all.
The causes of this trend are multi-faceted, but Western Liberal Democracies exporting their middle classes to the developing world through outsourcing plays a big role. As does the inexorable march of technology not just displacing jobs but profoundly removing the underlying need for whole classes of industry to exist at all. For evidence, consider the impact of the Internet on industries that are built around complex physical distribution networks such as Newspapers.
The SMH article gave me cause to go back and examine some of the “future of work” posts I had put together over the last 18 months or so.
Here they are:
Just by examining the titles, it was obvious that I had managed to collect a rather telling list of links and quotes on the changing nature of work without ever really setting out to do so. It is obvious that technology is changing both the way we work and the nature of the work we do, and it is also clear that simple economics encourage organisations to acquire the services of labour from low-wage jurisdictions, with the inevitable consequence that opportunities for traditional jobs in high-wages jurisdictions shrink.
Unless, of course, you can stay ahead of the trend. Which is why I find it very encouraging that the Gen-Ys and Millennials mentioned in the article are actively trying to get ahead by building their own businesses and becoming their own employers. Power to them.
Sadly, this passion and optimism is in stark contrast to the actions and words of our Governments and traditional employers. Whilst we are in the process of being completely broadsided by a fundamental change in the nature of work, no-one seems to be paying attention. Governments of all persuasions are quick to fund programs for traditional employment, but do almost nothing to nourish the entrepreneurial spirit.
Where are the policies for big ideas like founder failure insurance, or better targeting of concessional tax treatment for innovative businesses that mean funds go to real start-ups, as opposed to being funnelled through multi-national mining companies who use the funds to offset the cost of land remediation.
Or what about adopting one of the ideas of the Daily Show’s Jon Stewart:
What we need to do in this country is make it a softer cushion for failure. Because what they say is the job creators need more tax cuts and they need a bigger payoff on the risk that they take. … But what about the risk of, you’re afraid to leave your job and be an entrepreneur because that’s where your health insurance is? … Why aren’t we able to sell this idea that you don’t have to amplify the payoff of risk to gain success in this country, you need to soften the damage of risk? [Source]
Technology has already significantly reduced the cost of failure in starting a business, but as the mining boom winds down, perhaps its time for Governments to look to other areas of the economy to provide growth and gainful, satisfying ‘employment’ for the population.
If not, then what are we going to do when we’ve finished digging all of the holes?