Going out on a limb: the evolution of the American workforce

From when the English landed in Jamestown, Virginia to the present, American business has gone through many evolutionary stages.  From being primarily agrarian to the industrial revolution, the ability to adapt has been paramount for the American workforce.

In more recent history, American adapted from a long history of manfacturing to more of a service based ecosystem of industries where most of our efforts are not about making physical brick and morter items (think of the rise of the internet and the fall of the American auto industry and industrial production in Asia). Since change is a constant, the question beckons, “what is next?”

In my mind, there is a compelling argument that the change will be more in the structure of US businesses.

Currently, there is a mix of both large corporations and small businesses that serve both other businesses and consumers.  Almost all Americans who work either own their own business or contribute 100% of their work effort to a single company (i.e. a full time employer).

With millennials entering the workforce, this system is poised to change, especially with how we were taught in school. Here is why:

Millennials are different than their Gen X and Baby-Boomer predicessors. Millennials are impatient and expect to be promoted and given a raise every year. Millennials are used to doing many things at once (think about how we played soccer, the saxophone and participated in boy/girl scouts all at once).

Unfortunately, that is just not how the corporate world works.  You don’t get promoted every year and often you have to do just one thing (over and over again).

To date, it is fairly typical to see people our age work for 4 different companies in 6 years after graduation, in completely different industries (probably in search for the perfect career, that may or may not exist). This “strategy” is just not sustainable, or at least it won’t lead to moving up both the financial and corporate food chain.

One theory is that while Baby Boomers will stay in the workforce longer, a good number is leadership positions (because many actually like to work and lost a bunch of their retirement savings with the recent economic crisis), millennials will find another way to fuel the US workplace.

This new model will manifest itself in what I call a “community based system.”

The community based system will consist of a marketplace of workers that are not dedicated to a single employer. “Employees” will work for a number of companies, offering their unique set of skills (that are most likely in a few different areas, not just a single area). Employers (which include corporate leadership and business owners) will tap into different platforms that will emerge to find people who can do a task/function they need completed. The “employees” will then be rewarded with payment associated with what they contributed (merit based on performance as well as time based in the form of cash and even company equity).

We have seen models like they beginning to proliferate (like with open source projects in the tech industry), and a “community” model is what millennials are accustomed to after years and years of group projects in school.

Kind of a radical idea, huh?

Well, even if that doesn’t come true, I can easily see that millennials will change the way that work is done in the corporate world. The idea of “work/life balance” will be replaced with “work/life integration” and instead of sitting at a desk from 8am-5pm Monday thru Friday, millennials will find ways to accomplish their job responsibilities when they want and where they want.

I guess only time will tell what the next step in the “evolution” of the American workforce will be.





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About Young Professional's Edge (YP Edge)

Aaron McDaniel is a corporate manager, entrepreneur, author, public speaker and community leader. Aaron has held numerous management roles at a Fortune 500 company, being appointed Regional Vice President at the age of 27, and is the founder of multiple entrepreneurial ventures. He is also the author of the book, The Young Professional's Guide to the Working World (http://www.amazon.com/Young-Professionals-Guide-Working-World/dp/1601632428). Aaron instructed a highly rated student-led course on leadership at UC Berkeley’s Haas Undergraduate School of Business and has a book, The Young Professional's Guide to the Working World: Savvy Strategies to Get In, Get Ahead, and Rise to the Top, due to be out later this year. Aaron offers advice that helps young professionals build the foundation for a successful career. Visit his blog, http://www.ypedge.com to learn more.

Posted on January 19, 2012, in Philosophy and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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