The definition of work and, consequently, the definition of a job is changing. The evolution from agrarian and industrial age jobs to service and knowledge work is nearing its completion, thanks to the help of the latest recession. The ability to use your “head” as well as your hands, not one or the other, is a requirement today. And yet, we have graduation rates hovering around 70% for many high schools. Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (S.T.E.M.) scores are falling well below dozens of nations. Today knowledge, is power and too many workers simply don’t have the mojo.
Employees in new jobs don’t “go to work” — and if they do, they don’t work in permanent full-time positions. They work in part-time jobs, often working for several employers at the same time. But unlike the past when working part time was a stepping stone to full-time employment or a means to propping up personal finances, part-time work in the future will be by design. Skilled workers will work remotely, simultaneously interacting with different teams in different places and even collaborating on different projects. People with the right skill sets can do that. The contingent worker, or “just-in-time” worker, will become the norm, especially in lower skill jobs. The less versatile the employee, the more expendable he or she becomes.
People also have long complained that they have been swamped by too much information. In 1917 a manager of a Connecticut manufacturing plant complained about the effects of the telephone: “Time is lost, confusion results, and money is spent.” Despite his objections, technologies like the telephone supported economies built around mass production. Today, technology and globalization have created a seismic shift from quantitative change to qualitative differences. Economies, once driven by whoever owned the machinery and raw materials, is now being outflanked by the new raw material of business — data. Joe Hellerstein at the University of California at Berkeley, calls it the “industrial revolution of data.” The Economist called it the “data deluge.” Keeping up with all the new information being created is difficult enough. Analyzing it and extracting useful information is harder still. Ignoring it is economic suicide.
This revolution requires a new skill worker — one who has the ability to process large volumes of uninterrupted data and extract valuable information from it. Edward Gordon, in a recent issue of The Futurist, called for a “[a] new age [that] will require the reinvention of the education-to-employment system.”