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Plenty of Work: Jobs, Not So Much

by Mark Guterman and Dan King

Photo of workers of various occupations“Where are all the good jobs?”

As career experts we’re often asked this question — and we like it because it presumes we’re holding secret, highly classified information. We can wallow in our self-importance!

What constitutes a “good” job anyway? High pay? Fast growth? Promising future? Meaningful work? I think you know where we stand.

If it’s the bucks you’re after, then Investment Banking might be for you, but it’s not without drawbacks. Physician and Surgeon are good jobs that pay well — so are Dentist, Podiatrist and Chiropractor. But with these jobs, there’s the whole training and education thing to get through. Besides, the highest rate of growth for health-related jobs is in Texas. Would you really look that good in a 10-gallon hat?

Some of the fasting growing jobs, according to the latest report from the Bureau of Labors Statistics, include such occupations as Home Health Aides, Biomedical Engineers, Veterinary Technologists, Event Planners, Market Research Analysts, and Marriage Therapists (unless, of course, we vote to ban marriage therapy).

So here’s a secret: The fastest growing employer in the US is “Self.”

That’s right. “The Great Recession has pushed many individuals into business ownership due to high unemployment rates,” says Robert Litan, vice president of research and policy at the Kauffman Foundation.” And oddly enough, the recession seems to be adding momentum.

By choice or necessity, more and more people are pursuing self-employment as an alternative to an iffy corporate existence. However, economic uncertainty likely has made them more cautious, and they prefer to start sole proprietorships rather than more costly employer firms.

A recent New York Times article entitled “The Rise of the Independent Work Force”, concurs with the research, noting that one-third of the American work force is “contingent,” which includes consultants, contractors, temporary workers, and the self-employed. In effect, this growing part of the population is creating work for themselves, rather than holding a job.

Self-employment rates have been growing at an average of 4.5 percent annually most of the past decade, adding roughly 1 million people per year, and they are expected to keep pace as the economy stews in its slow recovery. Across the country, enrollment in entrepreneurship programs at universities is booming. People are taking their careers into their own hands.

It may be that this “jobless” recovery is indicative of something new, that with the increasing pressures caused by technology and globalization, the era of the “job” may be on its way to becoming an outmoded way of working. Let’s face it — prior to the industrial revolution, most people were self-employed anyway. Jobs, per se, didn’t exist, so people had to go it alone.

It’s not likely the job will ever completely disappear, but it seems clear that we need to expand our thinking about our work and work lives. With the workplace continually in flux, one thing remains constant: there is plenty of “work that needs doing,” whether it’s packaged as a job or not. This is why the contingent workforce is growing. They are seizing this opportunity — sometimes as a stopgap, but often as an adventurous new career choice.

With so many emergent opportunities, we are presented with multiple ways to work to make a living. That’s the good news. The bad news is that these new ways of working require an ability and willingness to think entrepreneurially, with all the concomitant risks and rewards.

For those who’ve had a traditional and linear career path, this new way of working is scary, even a bit daunting — and they may strive for an ever-elusive sense of job security, but this doesn’t align with the realities of today’s workplace where, in essence, all jobs are temporary.

As you head into this brave new workplace, here are some tips for more proactively managing your career:

  • Forget jobs — look for work that needs doing. Once the need is established, the work arrangement can be configured in any number of ways.
  • Take responsibility for managing your own career. Don’t expect any company or organization to manage it for you.
  • Develop a professional mission statement that emphasizes what you can do, not where you work.
  • Anticipate uncertainty. Understand how you respond to change. Practice stress management. See changes as opportunities for growth.
  • Reframe your expectations — view all jobs as temporary and don’t approach each career move as a search for a “final resting place.”
  • Determine what is important to you above and beyond a paycheck. Know what you value most and what you would be willing to trade off to get it.
  • Take stock of your skills and accomplishments. See yourself as a “portfolio of skills”.
  • Build your own career ladder with a sequence of skill building work experiences. Make sure every job gives you new skills to better prepare you for the next one — and the one after that.
  • Stay connected through professional associations, publications and social media.
  • Think of yourself as a business — if you see a need, propose a solution. Develop a self-employed mindset.

Sure, this thinking puts the responsibility for security squarely on your own shoulders — but it bodes well for those who are seeking meaningful work. A “job” is a construct usually created by others, to solve problems others consider important — and it may not coincide with your own personal needs for meaning. Independent work allows you to integrate meaning directly into your worklife.

As the structured world of jobs fades into the sunset, the dawning of a new world of work opens us up to virtually unlimited and meaningful possibilities. Don’t fight it. Savor it.

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