A job for today – not for life


Credit: CC BY 2.0

Yagyansh Bagri

If we begin with when you were studying in school, in a few years time you will have started studying in a university of your choice; in five years time, you will have started your career and the possibility of working for some of the top institutions across the globe. You may perhaps then get married, buy a house, and in ten years time your life will be set.

Now let me tell you why this approach may fail you. I know people who graduated at twenty-one and didn’t find a job until they were twenty-seven. I know people who graduated late at twenty-five and found work immediately. I know people who never went to university, but found what they love at eighteen. I know people who found a job straight out of college making decent money, but hate what they do. I know people who took gap years and found their purpose. I know people who were so sure of what they were going to do at sixteen, but changed their mind at twenty-six.

You may look at your friends and feel that some are ahead of you, and that some of them are behind, but everyone goes at their own pace.

At age twenty-five, Mark Cuban was a bartender in Dallas; he now has a net worth of $3.9 billion. It took JK Rowling until she was thirty-one years old to publish Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone, after being rejected by twelve publishers. Ortega launched Zara when he was thirty-nine. Jack Ma started Alibaba when he was thirty-five. Morgan Freeman got his big break at fifty-two. Virgin was started by Richard Branson at thirty-four.

The concept of a “job for life” has seemed antiquated for a while now. In the future it seems doubtful whether “jobs” as we know them will exist at all. Many, of course, will be done away with by the much-prophesied automated takeover of everything from truck driving to brain surgery, but that is only half the story. Something more basic is under threat: the entire edifice of office-based, nine-to-five employment that has defined our working lives for at least a century.

The bargain employees once struck with their employers was simple: they handed their minds and bodies over for 40 hours or more each week, in exchange for security, pensions, and mortgages, but today this model makes little sense. Many jobs — certainly most white-collar ones — consist of a range of different tasks, the majority of which can be performed by anyone with an internet connection. So why employ one person to do them all, when that also involves renting office space, investing in training, paying benefits and employing managers to supervise? Why not, instead, slice jobs up into their component parts, and contract these out to specialists? In many industries — pharmaceuticals, accountancy — this is already happening, as full-time employees are replaced by contractors. For millions of people around the globe, this is what the future holds: each worker a one-person corporation, a droplet in what some are calling the “human cloud”.

On the other hand, lamenting the fact of change seems futile. There was nothing essential, or inherently “right”, about the old model. It was simply what — before the advent of globalisation, the internet and widespread automation— made most sense.
As the nature of work changes, the question of its value comes increasingly to the fore. If, in the future, there’s less work to go around, is that a bad thing, given that it doesn’t necessarily equate to less overall wealth? How can we make our working lives feel more meaningful? The world is rapidly changing and the necessity for new types of work is forever evolving as new technologies and demands take hold of our society. We’re living longer and we’re working longer, but perhaps we can see the exciting side of this. For example, you can complete a degree, work in an industry for two decades and then have the opportunity to do it all over again in a completely different field. There is no such thing as a “job for life” anymore; however it is something we need to embrace, because if we don’t, we’re going to be left behind.