The Federal Reserve Board’s Enterprising and Informal Work Activity survey concluded that just over a third of the adult population has participated in informal paid work activity, either as a complement to, or a complete replacement for, traditional wage-based jobs.
Those alternative careers – sometimes called “gig economy” jobs – account for almost all of the job growth that has been recorded between 2005 and 2015. Those rosy unemployment numbers, which set the unemployment rate at 4.7 percent in December 2016, doesn’t paint a complete picture of just what type of jobs are being created, and how great a role informal and alternative jobs play in achieving that number. We are rapidly redefining what a job really is, and this redefinition is being driven by the new dotcloud economy.
While the recent presidential campaign focused on creating more blue-collar factory jobs, this narrow political focus denies the unmistakable fact that not only do these jobs not exist anymore, were they to exist, few people would want them. The traditional postwar manufacturing job allowed you to go from high school to the factory floor, punch the time clock and log in eight hours plus overtime, take your ten minute break when the whistle blows, and repeat every day for thirty years. While this seemed like a good deal for people who had gone through the Great Depression and returned from World War II to find a newly vibrant set of blue collar employment possibilities, Millennials are simply not interested in being the next “Greatest Generation.” They will achieve their own style of greatness, and the hallmark of Millennial employment will be unparalleled flexibility and control over one’s career that the postwar workers never dreamed of.
A recent PwC report, “Millennials at work: Reshaping the workplace” notes that Millennials’ use of technology sets this demographic apart in the workplace, and suggests that Millennials are less comfortable with rigid corporate structures and information silos. According to the report, Millennials are less interested in a job for life, and more interested in work/life balance, flexibility, and personal learning and development.
Born-in-the-cloud platforms facilitate a move to the gig
The dotcloud economy has allowed enabling technology to once and for all catch up to the dream of the dotcom. The biggest factor in moving away from traditional wage-based jobs is the increasing availability of born-in-the-cloud platforms. While gig economy giant Upwork is an all-encompassing platform that matches gig players with virtually any skill to those who wish to hire them, we’re seeing the emergence of more specialized platforms like FitnessTrainer.com, which gives personal trainers a platform for getting their own gigs and managing their own careers rather than getting a wage job at a gym or health club. According to FitnessTrainer.com co-founder Andrew Marcus, “Traditional jobs are not as sought-after or desirable as they once were, especially by younger workers who want more flexibility and quality of life. Workers of all types are turning to gig platforms as a preferred alternative to the thirty-years-and-out ideal of the previous generation.”
Automation and robotics may make jobs as we know them obsolete
In President Trump’s inauguration speech, he painted a picture of what he called “American carnage” of “rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation.” Yet contrary to that dystopian portrait, American manufacturing output is double what it was in 1987 and growing steadily, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. There may be fewer jobs, but it’s not China’s fault – it’s just that American manufacturing is smarter, more efficient and more automated than ever, and manufacturers are able to make higher quality products with greater precision and with less labor, and to offer those products to consumers at lower cost.
Much like the automobile industry itself put a lot of blacksmiths and farriers out of business, today’s cloud-enabled modern manufacturing is eliminating unskilled labor jobs and replacing them with higher-skilled careers in robotics and IT.
A window of opportunity for born-in-the-cloud SOHOs
We’re in the early stages of the biggest change in entrepreneurship in the past hundred years. Jobs are no longer jobs, work is moving towards more of a self-directed, task-based environment rather than the mindless work of the factories of the 1950s. Larger companies, rather than hiring tens of thousands of additional workers, rely on business process outsourcing (both domestic and offshore) to get tasks done more efficiently, and this creates a greater need for smaller, entrepreneurial companies to service that need.
The ”IBM Model” used to attempt to do everything in-house, but today, you are much more likely to provide services to IBM from a small third party firm (or your own SOHO shop) than you are to actually draw a weekly paycheck from the company.
This shift towards the outsourcing model – together with new, born-in-the-cloud platforms that match up small service providers with the larger companies that need them – has created hundreds of thousands of small-scale entrepreneurs who are entering the job market not as employees, but as their own boss.