Preparing for a career, not a full-time job!

Click to EnlargeThe full-time job – used to it as we are – is not a natural state of human existence. Before the 1800’s, few people worked a structured “work week”. The full-time job was dreamed up by early industrialists, who needed to bring workers together in a factory at the same time to efficiently manufacture products.

For the past 100 years, the 40-hour job has been the centerpiece of the workplace (i.e. the economy), simply because there was no better way for people to gather in one location at the same time to connect, collaborate and produce.

However, technology has and is now changing the nature of work and dynamics of the workplace. This trend points to a new era in which most of us will work in multiple “micro-jobs” at the same time, leaving the traditional full-time job behind. “Work” is most likely to turn into a marketplace in the cloud, rather than a desk and a chair at a traditional firm or company.

A specialist based workforce will be able to make a good living by layering a number of professional relationships, client networking, entrepreneurial passions and other money-earning pursuits on top of each other.

We’re already experiencing the embryonic version of this kind of future labor market, which – currently – is mainly focused on simple, hands-on kind of work. Lyft and Uber are application platforms that allow people a way to leverage their cars and time to earn money. TaskRabbit is a labor market place for a variety of odd jobs. Airbnb lets you rent out the extra room in your home. Etsy is a market place for the handmade skirts and garments that you sew while watching your favorite soapy.

The major evolving change, is that this manner of work is rapidly entering the professional place of work. Instead of side gigs, people will be able to instantly market their expertise in engineering, law, chemistry, writing or anything else to an array of possible clients, assembling a well-paid dream career as a multi-faceted specialist free agent.

A General Electric documentary shows how that can play out as early as 2020. GE opened up a public contest called the “Bracket Challenge“. Their jet engine division needed a new lightweight design for brackets that would help hold an engine on an airplane. About 700 people from all over the world submitted their designs. GE select one by M Arie Kurniawan, an engineer living in Indonesia. Kurniawan won $7,000 and GE got a part that’s 84% lighter than and just as strong as its predecessor.

This program was such a huge success that GE plans to launch many more design challenges in years to come. Other companies, from drug manufacturers  to oil drillers, are creating similar initiatives. In his book “Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything“, author Don Tapscott describes how innovative companies will increasingly open work to the crowd. As that happens, a new kind of work marketplace will emerge that allow people to contribute their expertise to many companies all over the world.

A recent start-up called Recruitifi, illustrates another way that professionals will be able to leverage their professional networks and competencies for financial gain. The core purpose of the company is to create a platform for the recruiting industry. Its technology pools all kinds of headhunters on one side, and corporate clients on the other, similar to the way Uber pools drivers on one side and riders on the other, with a clever application in between. But there is an intriguing by-product to Recruitifi: Pretty much anyone can become a recruiter. “There is really no barrier to entry”, CEO Brin McCagg said. Let’s say – for example – you’re a marketing manager. You probably know other good marketing managers. You could set up an account on Recruitifi, keep an eye on the demand for marketers and propose candidates for vacant positions. When “your candidate” gets hired, you’d get paid a commission. Now you have a new line of work that’s monetizing your professional network to some extent.

Upwork is a market place for free agent work, letting any person find and hire professionals for almost any kind of knowledge-based work.

Meanwhile, new tools are making it cheap and easy to start a business, allowing individuals to become successful entrepreneurs. DigitalOcean makes it simple to build a smart-phone app and set it up as a stand-alone business. Shapeways allows someone to design a product and have it 3D printed and sold worldwide. While Amazon Web Services, DropBox and other cloud services companies, have driven down the cost of hosting an online business and distributing it around the globe.

All these technological developments are making it possible for a typical professional to have a multi-faceted career with several sources of income. You can maybe do some recruiting, build a business and take on projects posted by different companies… all at once. Your work week can be as many hours as you want, with whatever schedule you desire and working in an environment of your choice.

But even as this new labor market promises us greater flexibility, we don’t yet know if it’ll make us work any less. History is full of predictions that technology will shorten work hours. In 1965 a project researching the implications of automation, predicted that Americans would work 14-hour weeks by the year 2000, with seven weeks of vacation. Instead, America has the most advanced technologies, but some of the longest working hours in the world.

And while this kind of dynamic, entrepreneurial life may horrify an older generation, we already know that younger workers tend to prefer their work to be more short-lived. The mindset of long-term full-time employment is clearly fading: A recent Future Workplace survey found that 91% of young adults expect to stay in a job for less than three years, and that flexible hours and location-independent policies are more desirable than salary.

In fact, an organization called Live in the Grey asks why anyone would want a single job that eats up 40 hours a week. It refers to itself as a collection of “disruptors, innovators and thought leaders that believe life and work are not black and white,” and its supporters include Pepsi, Warby Parker and Lululemon. Better to piece together work and passions in a way that makes you enough money and offers a more rewarding life.

As we march into this new future, perhaps now is the time for individuals to ask themselves for kind of career they would like to prepare for: a traditional full-time job with a single company or a series of overlapping micro-jobs “knitted together” in a quilt like career path …and more importantly, how does one set oneself up for success in this rapid evolving economy?