Moving into a new year is a good to time to plan ahead. But it’s become difficult and even frightening to do so in our work lives.
Jobs are disappearing. People are being replaced by robots and other forms of automation. And it’s not just mechanical tasks, but also higher-level white-collar work like medical diagnosis and legal research that are being threatened by the advance of artificial intelligence.
As well, increasing amounts of the available work is no longer regular full-time, full-year employment with a large company or government and a nice benefit package – what used to be called dental plan jobs.
Instead, we’re more likely to be in the gig economy, doing different tasks for different organizations, always with an eye out to what we can do next.
Moving from a dental plan job to the gig economy can be scary. I made that move voluntarily years ago. After the initial panic (Will I ever earn any money? How do I do this job?), I learned to get the help I needed and realized that this new work life has its advantages.
One advantage for most of us in the gig economy is that we no longer need to get up early and face a long commute in traffic and then repeat the process every evening. As Linda Nazareth puts it in the title of her latest book, Work is Not A Place. Much work can be done anywhere you and your tablet or laptop are. You can also set your hours, although that often means starting as early as you want and finishing as late as you want rather than the opposite.
Nazareth’s book offers good advice and guidance on what we can do to succeed in the 21st century. One employer won’t look after us for our entire career and then offer us a pension, so we have to start looking after ourselves.
An advantage of working on your own is that there’s no ceiling on how much money you can make.
Employees’ incomes are limited by union contracts or by how much money their boss makes. Working for yourself, there’s no ceiling. Most of us will not become rich but we can bring in a good income.
However, that income will not always be high and will almost always be variable and sporadic. Therefore, we have to follow the first rule of financial management: spend less than you make. Save regularly and avoid debt. Debt can be very hard to deal with through a lean patch.
If we’re to be our own bosses, we should act like a good boss and provide ourselves with benefits. Insurance can be bought for dental work, supplementary medical services and income interruptions. RRSPs offer retirement income.
The best bosses invest in their workers. We need to invest in ourselves.
Certain areas will continue to be in very high demand for the remaining jobs and for well-paid contract work.
In 2019 and for many years after, robots and other forms of automation will not be able to build and maintain themselves. People who can do this will name their own price.
The need for health care will grow and not all health care can be automated. Medical personnel will need to be able to take advantage of data bases and automated technology, but only they can provide the human component that healing requires.
We still need people to provide most of the content that fills the Internet and our automated world. Computers may soon be able to turn out ditties and formulaic romance or mystery novels, but new, different and great art still remains in the human domain.
Workers can be replaced by machines. Talent can’t. Talent isn’t just something we’re born with. It’s developed through education, training, lots of practice and – in today’s world – continuous updating.
Workers may be redundant, but talent at all levels is increasingly scarce. People who can develop and work with technology and/or do the things machines can’t will be in high demand, as will people who can work with other people.
One more skill that will serve well is the ability to manage people. Doing well in the gig economy often means that one gets more work than can be done by one person. At that point you need to hire talent and learn to keep that talent. Since we’ve come up ourselves in the gig economy, we should know how to treat those coming up after us.
May 2019 be happy and prosperous for us all as we learn to plan for a new kind of work.
Troy Media columnist Roslyn Kunin is a consulting economist and speaker.