Your leaders are not telling the truth. (Surprise!) Your jobs are not coming back. Unemployment will remain high. I know this for certain. Why? It's not the recession. It's not outsourcing. It's not because industries are dying or shrinking. Those are all real challenges of course, but the real reason? Machines and software.
Yes, the real reason you are out of a job is that we've focused on building software that reduce the total amount of output required by humans to produce what we need. This is what thousand of software engineers do every day. They work hard at finding ways to remove you from work. They've gotten pretty good at it, don't you think?
That's not to say we don't need work. Humans need work like we need water, air, and food. We need work because we must have some sense of purpose. We need to be creative. We need to learn. We work to make money.
Your problem, in 2011, is that you - the worker - is caught in the middle of a torrent of software-driven innovation in an open world. As the fast moving matrix of supply and demand drives labor to real-time the "regular" full-time jobs will no longer be available to many people.
"No, we don't need you at the office for 40 hours this week. Maybe we need 14 hours. Then we need you for 60 hours next week when the demand is high"
So, if the regular full-time jobs are gone and not coming back. What's next? I've been thinking about this for some time and I think the future is clear.
Self employment will continue to rise
You will live and work independently of corporate structures. Of course, many people will continue to work for companies and large organizations, I'm not saying those are going away any time soon, but, more and more people will follow the entrepreneurial model. You will have to find and do work on your own.
You won't have one job. You'll have many. You'll work with small groups or teams and you'll build your reputation in the open social environment. You'll be a free agent and you'll pick up small jobs from companies, organizations, and sometimes from other people just like you (the peer-to-peer model). You will build your reputation - one small job at a time.
Your reputation is key
To survive you have to be creative and you have to be networked. You must focus your skill set and develop your reputation. Your "resume" is built one small job at the time. People trust you because of the jobs you've done for others in an open environment. You have a rating, just like your local restaurant, and that rating improves with the quality of your work, your creativity, and your ability to deliver value. It's not, as now, locked in your MS Word version of your resume/CV.
Your resume replaced by the "Digital Work Card"
To replace your resume/CV, you will have a Digital Work Card - a data profile of all work related activity. As a student fresh out of college (if you go to College at all) you won't have an empty resume, you'll have a Digital Work Card connected to all the people you've done small jobs for with ratings and comments about your work. This is who you are. This is your reputation card.
If you think about it, this makes more sense. (I wrote about it here). I should not have more information and data about my local restaurant than I do of the person I hire. It's not a privacy thing. You can keep some information private if you like, but if you are good, and that is of course a requirement, you want that data surfaced to people who can give you work. Yes, you can put your semi-professional or professional profile on LinkedIn or Yelp or Redbeacon, but that's not the point. The point is that you should just have that data - it should be yours - just like your CV is yours and it should be updated automatically when you do small jobs. You should carry it with you - on your mobile - it should not be vertically locked on any website.
Labor as utility
Companies will tap this fluid mass of talented workers like water. You see it now with Elance, Etsy, E-Bay and some late attempts in start-ups like Gigwalk and Taskrabbit. In San Francisco, you can see the latest iteration of this open small jobs marketplace with Coffee & Power from Second Life Founder Philip Rosedale.
Why is this happening now
The missing pieces are in place now. Smart phones is (becoming) the digital wallet and the communication platform on which we can build all this. It's easy to connect the network now. LinkedIn adds a bit of reputation and data around individual expertise and new services such as BranchOut connects this to Facebook and social. The payment frameworks to power it all are established (PayPal) and new distruptions through services like Square is making CC payments in-person easy and frictionless.
How do we accelerate it
What's missing is the social layer and open data portability between the different networks. For instance, you - as an independent agent - should be able to "carry" your Digital Work Card with you cross networks. When you earn money, credits, or trust on one platform you should be able to port it - or rather you should own that data and carry it with you to other networks and platforms. You should never have to update your bio or CV... it's just with you. When you do a job for me, the review and rating I give you should go into your Digital Work card and be available to all other networks.
We need to build the network and open it up. We have to design fluid systems for managing small bite sized chunks of work. We need a trust standard and we need more people to help build this future.
The global nomad digital worker is real and she's ready. All we need to do is connect the dots. She'll join us and so will you.
Resistance is futile.