Making work may replace the careers we’ve known


A student-run Internet-based newspaper, The Prince Arthur Herald, published an article of mine today entitled “Fixing Canada’s Out of Balance Economy”. For readers of Personal Due Diligence, it’s worth a moment of your time.

One out of two people of working age in the Greater Toronto Area is reported to not have a full-time job today. They’re contract workers, they’re in permanent part-time, they consult, they run a micro business from home, but they’re not on the career ladder.

In many cases, this isn’t by choice. A significant number of these people were at one time climbing the greasy poles of management in largish organizations. But merging businesses, offshoring and outsourcing functions, downsizing and early retirement programs to better earnings, and the odd bankruptcy have slowly but surely knocked rungs on those ladders off — and left fewer ladders to scramble onto in turn.

I looked at my own CV this morning while writing this, and noted that, of the companies I’ve worked for, one went bankrupt, one stopped producing its own products and is now owned by its offshore manufacturing “partner”, one was acquired out of existence, and one is still around, but the part of the company I worked in was outsourced years ago. Four of the jobs I’ve held over the years no longer exist. One of my sessional appointments — in management at the graduate school level — was to teach a course no longer a part of the curriculum (even as an option) at that university. The industry association I helped found has been merged out of existence. Two of the boards I sat on were at companies that were acquired and are no longer generating jobs in Canada.

This isn’t just “bad luck” or “poor choices” — this is the state of the economy. It makes career security a far more challenging journey than it was in the prior generation’s time (and I’m in the heart of the baby boomer generation).

So what would I, as a Personal Due Diligence advisor, say to you about this?

Well, as someone who has spent a little over nine years outside of the corporate ladder (private, public or not-for-profit sectors), I’m acutely aware that it’s a little glib to just say “go start a business” to many of us. Not everyone is suited for entrepreneurial life, just as not every one of us would want to stand at the front of a classroom, run into a burning building dragging a hose, cut into bodies in an operating theatre …

But what I would say is that the numbers in our society add up to a picture that’s worth considering long before you’re thrown into it.

First, the largest generation in our mix — the baby boomers — is now starting to hit the classic retirement age of 65. (Boomers are roughly in the 50-65 age band as of 2013.) Most boomers can’t really afford to retire. They’re real estate heavy, retirement fund light, according to Canada’s banking industry and Statistics Canada. They’re also often still dealing with debts — mortgages, lines of credit and the like. That means they’re going to want to keep working for a while longer.

They’re also generally paid better than those coming behind them, which gives their employer an incentive to run yet another early retirement effort even if nothing else is going on with the firm. It’s why, for instance, you see mass programs to rank older employees as “unsatisfactory” (putting them on a performance improvement plan to exit) and early retirement offers going through the public sector today that are every bit the same as those running through the corporate sector.

Second, regardless of which generation you’re a part of, there are deep economic dislocations working their way out. Demand is off — way off — and that’s as much a function of a lack of truly “new things” worthy of consumption as it is the consumer being tapped out (the average Canadian owes $1.67 for every $1.00 they have in gross income). The piled up debts and intractable deficits run in the public sector are making the public sector as a “safe landing zone” as problematic as the private going forward — not to mention the ongoing inflation in costs spilling over from the endless rounds of quantitative easing being done.

Third (and here’s the good news) there are new technologies out there to allow smart relocalization of business after a century and more of consolidation on a global basis. From 3-D printing to local power generation to a host of other tools now available cheaply, the options for making your own work have never been better. “Starting in a garage” no longer needs to mean “learning how to program”.

Along the way, there’s a host of business services and retail operations needed. (The wife of a friend of mine is a contract bookkeeper — she comes in once/month, cleans out the shoebox, fixes up the records, pays the bills, handles the tax returns, and moves on to the next client. She works 10 days/month earning what she used to earn as the controller for a small company, and never has to deal with any organization’s successes or failures, much less their politics. Sure, from a résumé point of view, it’s not as impressive, but isn’t half a working month free to paint for the same money worth something?)

And that’s the point I’d make. In the future, maybe only 1/3 of us will have a “normal” (by 20th century historical standards) career ladder, and therefore a résumé that says “promotion, more responsibility, greater successes”. 2/3 of us will just work.

If you’re not constantly thinking about what the market might need, and how you might provide it, you’re not doing your own personal due diligence.

One thought on “Making work may replace the careers we’ve known

  1. Pingback: A society organized against you | Personal Due Diligence

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