Designing for Dignity
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Why We Need to Stop Talking About "Jobs"

One concern I have about the workforce development system is our unrelenting focus on "jobs." 

Don't get me wrong. People need to be able to make a living so they can support themselves and their families. But I think we need to stop talking about "getting a job," and start talking about "developing multiple income streams."

Here's the deal. The first thing we have to understand is that there aren't enough jobs to go around. 

As this map shows, most states are operating with a jobs deficit--they have more people looking for work than there are jobs available. 

Screen shot 2014-03-13 at 4.52.43 PM
Source: Joint Economic Committee US Congress


And the Bureau of Labor Statistics has been reporting pretty regularly now that we're stuck at about 3 job seekers for every job, which means that no matter how well qualified people may be, there are not enough jobs for everyone who wants one. 

And this isn't projected to change anytime soon, as the chart below shows. 

Working age pop and jobs


Why is this happening? For a few reasons.

First is the development of technology that is radically changing the need for human workers. We have sophisticated computer software that does the work of lawyers and Baxter, an inexpensive robot that can be "trained" to perform a variety of tasks with no programming necessary. Vast swaths of the workforce have lost their jobs in the last 5 years because technology allows work to be done with fewer human beings. 

The other big shift is in how businesses operate. Time was, if you needed to get something done, then you hired employees to do it. But in the past 10-15 years, businesses have turned to alternative arrangements--contract workers, contingent workers, out-sourcing, etc.--to accomplish their tasks. Employees are considered a "cost" so the last thing businesses want to do is add to their costs. Instead, they turn to other arrangments to get things done (See The Death of Jobs in Forbes).

Yes, there are still job openings. Some are the "gold standard" full-time job with benefits, but many more are temporary, project-based jobs that last 3 or 6 months. You can make a career out of this kind of work, but it requires people to be more entrepreneurial and it means they are dealing with a lot more uncertainty in their work lives. 

If we as a system are to provide more effective career counseling and services to our job seekers, we need to begin to accept the realities of this new economy. We need to start talking with our customers about ways to develop multiple income streams and how to build a career from a variety of projects, rather than through one single job. 

I would argue that we need to expand the kinds of workshops and services we are offering through our American Job Centers/One Stops so that we begin to help people navigate a career made up of multiple projects and income streams. We need to show people how to be more entrepreneurial in their careers and get them pursuing a variety of ways to bring in income. 

"Getting a job" just won't be possible for large numbers of our job seekers through no fault of their own. We need to begin preparing them for a different kind of future that is more project-based, fragmented and entrepreneurial if we want them to be able to survive and thrive in the years ahead. 


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