Post-corporate existence – part 4 – Inevitability

I want to point out that a post-corporate existence may lie in store for many talented and hardworking people, and why it is urgent to prepare for for that eventuality as soon as possible.

If you are employed in a high-end job, say, one of the highly desirable skilled positions that Americans with advanced degrees have held in the past, you have an uncomfortable likelihood of being jettisoned into the post-corporate world in the next few years.

You may know this by your own observation, but if you have been living a secluded existence, you can bring yourself up to date simply by Googling "middle class employment."

Here is one example out of thousands:

According to Beth Healy, of the Boston Globe, the latest offshoring trend is hitting home in a way the others did not — sending solidly middle-class, white-collar jobs, with their generous paychecks, overseas.  Among the choice bits in her article: CIOs expect offshoring to continue at a brisk clip for at least two to five more years before peaking.

Here is one perspective on the effects created by this employment situation:

The book, The Fragile Middle Class: Americans in Debt, by Teresa A. Sullivan, Elizabeth Warren, Jay Lawrence Westbrook claims that a sizable portion of the U.S. middle class–far more than pundits acknowledge–teeters on the brink of economic failure.

Included in their sample are teachers, accountants, computer engineers, sales clerks, executives, entrepreneurs, doctors and dentists–solidly middle-class folk who fell into financial disaster. Employment problems (layoffs, "skidding" to a lower-paying job, part-time work) were the biggest factor, as was the overuse of credit cards. (emphasis mine)

The uncertainty of middle-class employment is the subject of many studies, but few come up with solutions. The supposed causes range from the Bush Administration, to greedy capitalist CEOs, to illegal immigration, but none of these seem to prove out on close scrutiny.

If the problem was simple, there would be more success in solving it. The bottom line is: in a free market, jobs eventually go to those who can perform them satisfactorily for less money.

All efforts to "protect" a nation’s workers against competition from abroad eventually fail. The artificially high costs that result create great stress on the citizens and may eventually bankrupt the nation over time, as the nation can no longer compete in international trade.

Where does all of this dismal news leave us? Corporations increasingly treat employees as JIT resources. They compete fiercely for those they need and discard those who no longer make "essential" contributions.

We are gradually becoming a nation of mercenaries. Our professional status and security is evaporating with each passing year. Like the samurai of ancient Japan, we are becoming ronin, a term applied to samurai who had been discharged or ostracized.

When the age of the samurai ended in Japan, it was a time of great unrest and suffering. However, history records that some of these ronin went on to greatness and changed the course of Japanese history.

I will wager these ronin had to break out of the feudal mindset and think of themselves as free agents, not outcasts, before that happened. I believe the same is true today.

We may be coming to the end of the post industrial era as we knew it. If 21st century employment is dominated by well-trained mercenaries, it behooves us all to figure out what skills we will need to support ourselves and our families as free agents, rather than as long-term employees.

I think one answer is to develop more complete skill sets. Specialization may pose the risk of early obsolescence. I think the survivors will be men and women who master the skills of entrepreneurship, in addition to the skills they now use in their day job.

What do you think? Can the tide be turned, or will work as we know it change to a different model?


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0 Responses to Post-corporate existence – part 4 – Inevitability

  1. IB Bill says:

    Specialization may pose the risk of early obsolescence. I think the survivors will be men and women who master the skills of entrepreneurship, in addition to the skills they now use in their day job.

    You said it on entrepreneurship. We are free agents, in business for ourselves, and whoever is paying us is a customer. Our jobs are to help our customers improve their businesses.

    I may have preferred the old days of steady, lifetime employment, but they were gone by the time I got out of college. I don’t like the ways things are, but they are how they are.

  2. Rosa says:

    Aloha David,
    In my mind much good can come from this forced, but long overdue reinvention of work that must happen. Therefore, I for one am glad it is beginning to be forced upon us: we need to stoke the fires of our own initiative and foresight.

    Thank goodness too, that those who are somewhat awake may find you and Ripples, and not be totally blindsided.

    I like it when entrepreneurship is talked about in the same breath as self-employment, for we will all learn better and faster when we work for ourselves and not for a steady paycheck. Is it much harder? Absolutely. However it is also much much more satisfying.

  3. Tom McMahon says:

    I remember hearing once that all of Johnny Carson’s writers were on 13-week contracts for his entire 30-year run. Some writers were renewed and stayed with him for the whole 30 years, while others dropped off at various points, to be replaced by new ones. Very much a free-agent sort of arrangement.

  4. Jill says:

    A terrific post! I see the insecurity among almost everyone I know in their fifties. Fabulously talented people aren’t getting jobs to suit their talents. I wouldn’t be surprised if how to be an entrepreneur/free agent becomes a standard course in colleges. In the first stage of working life, people will work in the mega large corporations and firms knowing that about 50 they will want to drop out and start up their own small business to bring their distinct value added service or product to the marketplace.

    Personally, I think we headed towards the Support Economy that Shoshanna Zuboff writes about. At least, I hope so. The Web and new technology finally make it possible.

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