A job for life: the ‘new economy’ and the rise of the artisan career

More people are combining passion with profit in search of their dream profession

Whatever you think of the gig economy, it does throw up some amusingly bizarre jobs. Set Sar, of Providence, Rhode Island, told this paper in 2015 that he earns a crust by looking at videos and web pages on his computer while having his eyeball movements tracked via webcam. The information this provides is valuable to advertisers — and earns him a dollar every few minutes. In its higher echelons, the gig economy has led to an array of jobs with “consultant” in their title, as people find ingenious ways to peddle niche services to the rich. In New York, for example, “play date consultants” charge up to $400 an hour to teach the progeny of millionaires to share their toys.

The bad news (or good, depending on your viewpoint) is that none of this is going to change. Work is going to become even more bitty and insecure. The concept of a “job for life” has seemed outmoded for a while now. In the future, it seems doubtful whether “jobs” as we know them will exist at all. Many, of course, will be done away with by the much-prophesied automated takeover of everything from truck driving to brain surgery. But that is only half the story. Something more basic is under threat: the entire edifice of office-based, nine-to-five employment that has defined our working lives for at least a century.

The bargain employees once struck with their employers was simple: they handed their minds and bodies over for 40 hours or more each week, in exchange for security, pensions, mortgages. But today this model makes little sense. Many jobs — certainly most white-collar ones — consist of a range of different tasks, the majority of which can be performed by anyone with an internet connection. So why employ one person to do them all, when that also involves renting office space, investing in training, paying benefits and employing managers to supervise? Why not, instead, slice jobs up into their component parts, and contract these out to specialists? In many industries — pharmaceuticals, accountancy — this is already happening, as full-time employees are replaced by contractors. For millions of people around the globe, this is what the future holds: each worker a one-person corporation, a droplet in what some are calling the “human cloud”.

Such a future strikes fear into many. And it will, no doubt, have deplorable consequences. Unemployment will rise. Wages may drop. A new model of welfare will have to emerge, to ensure that those pushed out of the workplace can survive. (Universal basic incomes and “digital dividends” are among the ideas being advocated.) For the unskilled and un-enterprising, the fragmentation of work is especially dangerous. Blue-collar workers are already getting a foretaste of what may lie ahead as employers extricate themselves from their traditional obligations by forcing employees to work on zero-hours contracts.

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Source: Financial Times