The Real Future of Work – Part 1


I’ve recently returned from Vancouver, where I presented a session at the American Board of Vocational Experts  annual conference.  My session was called THE NEW WORLD OF WORK FOR PAY: IT ISN’T ALL ABOUT JOBS ANYMORE. 

What do I mean, it’s not about jobs?

Work has been with us forever.  Jobs have not.

Jobs as a configuration of work for pay really began with the Industrial Revolution in the mid-18th century.  Factory jobs (and later, office jobs and service jobs) were the basis of a long-term (potentially lifelong) agreement between an employer and an employee involving tasks to be done, skills required, hours, compensation, benefits, performance expectations and a job title.  With title came status.  Upward mobility became possible for workers for the first time.

But now that model has been disrupted. Jobs are no longer the single gold standard of work for pay.  Employment by a single organization or having the same career over a lifetime is becoming the exception rather than the rule.  A college degree no longer guarantees a good job with a good salary.  At the same time, we’re seeing an explosion of work for pay that doesn’t meet the traditional agreement conditions. You can see this change reflected in language: entrepreneur, freelancer, self-employed, contractor, project-based, part time and casual labor.

Freelancing/contracting is becoming increasingly common in sectors that might surprise you–like health care.  And I don’t just mean the administration part of health care.  I’m talking about physicians and nurses.

Another trend is that few, if any, jobs are going to be very long term, much less career-long, because the work to be done and the need it meets will change.  Telephone operators. Stenographers. Teams of manufacturing welders. The corner mechanic who could fix your car as well as the dealer. Thirty years ago, these kinds of jobs were plentiful.  A generation later, they don’t exist. Brand new technologies took their place, and more are on the way. It’s possible that very soon bank tellers, truck drivers and human resource professionals will be on the list of obsolete professions, too.

What does that mean for you? Life Planning (of which career and retirement are segments) MUST include:

  • The possibility that, given longer life spans, many of us will outlive our money
  • The probability that there won’t be traditional jobs for us, especially much later in our lives
  • The reality that we won’t be able to save our way to safety; we’ll have to find some way(s) of generating ongoing income in addition to savings
  • The likelihood that rapid change will enter our lives without notice, with or without permission
  • The ability to build multiple income streams earlier in our lives which can be sustained later.

The bottom line: We need to be the CEOs of our own professional lives, making and adjusting our life plans as needed.  That means short term planning, acknowledging long-term expectations and intentions, and regular reality checks and course corrections.

Putting our career trajectory wholly in the hands of our employers is simply too risky.  Putting our life planning primarily in the hands of others is not stepping up to responsibility. Professional career advisors are useful, but they can’t ultimately tell us what to do.  Don’t get me wrong: I believe in loyalty to our employers and professional advisors.  I just don’t believe in loyalty at any cost.

Your thoughts?


5 responses to “The Real Future of Work – Part 1”

  1. David Colquhoun says:


    In this matter I agree. Many of our conventions and laws are out of date, and having difficult reframing what a job is? The idea that we are individual contractors of our own skills has just become to come into its own. We exchange our time and our skills for monetary benefit as well as time control in the new world of work. The ideal of an organization employing us in a fixed aspect for our lives, and catering to our every need, and beyond to retirement – is gone as has the mental loyalty of such circumstances. Our relationships now are transitory and continually evolving to the requirements of the individual and organizations involved.

    David Colquhoun, Ph.D.
    Organizational Psychologist

    • George Schofield says:

      Thanks for your comments, David. In many cases we are comfortably stuck in our language and images. Do you have notions of alternatives? I am struggling with this, I admit, because it’s like trying to turn and aircraft carrier by swinging alongside and pushing against the stern. George

  2. George,
    Looking good up high in a tall building in Vancouver.
    I am researching my next gig, (not job), and the challenges facing the industry are different and require new answers. It is no longer possible to stay with the “tried and true”. The good news is that there is plenty of room for creative thinking and new approaches. Technology, including social media, is part of the answer and must be included.

    • George Schofield says:

      Thanks for your reply, Cheryl. As painful as it is sometimes, and as much as we want to cling to what we know (and what we think we an count on, in this age of discontinuous change calls for courage and pioneering. My new book should be out in January, and I’m hoping to give readers the gift of another approach entirely.

  3. David Lubert says:


    I believe the real future of work part 1 is being realized by more people than we think. I can only speak for myself and at the age of 55, I am in the midst of understanding and accepting this as the new normal! I am right now consulting for two very different companies. One during the day is a high tech firm and the other in the afternoon is a local manufacturing company. I am in the second year of this new consulting/contracting model and I am likely to embrace this new reality. It is a challenge only in that it is a very different working model and the sooner I get on board, the more likely it will work! Two options are likely to result. One is that I will adjust and find consulting to be my new working model for the rest of my second career, or I will find a new full time gig in a industry that is outside of my comfort zone, but might just be the rewarding work/life balance I need for my second career. As a wise man told me, the more ponies you have on the track the more likely you are to find a winner!

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