Will Contracting Become the Norm?

Susan Hall

Back when I was looking for a kindergarten for my son, one principal made the statement, "Ninety percent of the jobs these kids will hold do not exist now."


The reporter in me kicked in immediately. I thought, "How does he know that? On what basis is he saying that?" I thought a lot of what that man said was pap, but it is clear that work is changing and will be different for our kids. It's hard as parents and educators to know how to prepare kids for future jobs-or in which direction to steer them. My son's a teenager now and has expressed an interest in becoming a translator. And at this moment, Google's experimenting with a feature for real-time translation on Android phones.


Meanwhile, there's an interesting article at Businessweek about the high rates of unemployment among young adults around the world, with the highest rates in the Middle East and North Africa-and we've seen some devastating effects from that, most recently in Egypt.


I've written that physical location is becoming much less a factor in employment, especially as online work increases. My colleague Ann All earlier this week mentioned figures from online employment portal FlexJobs indicating that telecommuting job opportunities in the United States grew nearly 400 percent in the past three years.


Another Businessweek article delves into "microwork," sites that break tasks down into segments and through crowdsourcing, pay for ideas or contributions. The woman featured in the article made $1,000 for creating a wine-tasting app for iPhone and $4,000 for creating an animated video for a nonprofit.


Plenty of people are asking when companies will begin hiring again and whether a jobless recovery can still be considered a recovery. And Ann expressed to me just today, "It seems no one is questioning that some of these jobs may never come back or how many might not." She's raised that issue before. In IT especially, with automation and offshoring, obviously many jobs will not return as companies learn they can achieve greater efficiency with lower labor costs.


So perhaps the whole nature of work will be different for our kids-and not just in the physical aspects. (This Federal News Radio post tells of 27-year-old Stanford graduate Matt Collier, who heads the "cool team" at the Office of Personnel Management, which has been assigned to figure out how to make federal government work attractive to the next generation.)


Just as people no longer expect to stay with one employer for an entire career, perhaps this practice of earning a paycheck by spending our week with one employer is on its way out as well.


Will this piecemeal work-contracting-will become the norm? Already, Brian Mennecke, a management information systems professor at Iowa State University, sees technology lowering the buyer's cost to obtain the skills it really needs at the moment:

Spot markets for labor will be more common because the type of work people do now is often very fluid. Companies need the right labor at the right time.
An organization can now go out and relatively easily find the best people in short order and contract their services regardless of their location. So if a firm in Iowa needs a contractor who is a world-class Python programmer, that firm can seek out the programmer quickly and integrate him or her into the organization as a virtual team member.

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