Academic journal article Career Planning and Adult Development Journal

THE END of WORK as WE KNOW IT

Academic journal article Career Planning and Adult Development Journal

THE END of WORK as WE KNOW IT

Article excerpt

This article argues that work is going through a transformation. It makes the case by analyzing three key assumptions about the role of work (1) work is central to individual's identity (2) work structures daily life, and (3) work is the primary source of income. Three driving forces are challenging those assumptions - the rise of automation and machine intelligence, shifts in individual values, and the rise of a new economy - are described. The conclusion is that challenges to these assumptions are indeed underway and at varying stages of maturity. The implications for career development suggest a dual approach of maintaining a short-term focus on careers and gradually expanding the notion of career development into a more integrated, holistic approach of life planning.

Career advisors are continuously challenged with providing guidance that balances the short-and long-term interests of clients. This special issue focuses on the long-term, and this article explores the long-term future of work, suggesting that transformation change is ahead. My interest in the topic as an educator is that I am concerned that students are being prepared for the past rather than the future. In particular, efforts to make higher education more practical and oriented to providing good jobs may actually be misaligned with the long-term future. This article attempts to make a plausible case for how the future may be different, such that career development can start planning for a transition to this future.

My first project on the future of work was back in 1990 as a researcher for Joseph Coates' Future Work. Rarely has a year passed that I have not had some occasion to engage the topic, including reading several provocative pieces, such as Jeremy Rifkin's The End of Work. I became convinced that a goal of our economic system and policy-making of full employment was the exact opposite of what it should be - namely full unemployment. Reversing the full employment assumption opened up a huge range of creative possibilities for imaging how the future could be different, and exploring for a more preferable future. Nonetheless, to use the scenario planning parlance, until recently it remained a key uncertainty.

Three years ago, the Houston Foresight program had a day long-conference "After Capitalism" which discussed potential organizing principles for a new economic arrangement. The supporting researching suggested that a new economic approach in which jobs were no longer central to its functioning was no longer an uncertainty, but rather a question of timing. It shifted from if to when. It brings to mind the lesson of scenario pioneer Pierre Wack that a first set of scenarios identifies the uncertainties - the famous example being the rise of OPEC and the Arab Oil Embargo, and that the second, having become convinced of the inevitability of the uncertainty, becomes a question of focusing on timing.

Thus, this article takes the position that the end of work as we know it is no longer an uncertainty, but a question of timing. As we know it is saying something different than the end of work, period. It suggests a transformational change in the nature and purpose of work - not that it's going away completely. It's transformational because three core assumptions about what work provides are being challenged. Work is central to individual's identity. So, what do you do? is the most common question one receives after giving their name. Work is a significant component of who we are. Work structures daily life. It provides a structure or organizing principle for the day/ week, etc. Our schedules are typically organized around our work. Work is the primary source of income. It serves as the primary mechanism by which the economy distributes wealth. These assumptions are being challenged on many fronts, described in the next section.

Forces driving transformation

In teaching aspiring futurists at the University of Houston's Foresight program, we suggest that when indicators or signals of change are coming from multiples sources, sectors, and directs, we should pay strict attention. …

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