In my Financial Post article, “In the Future, No One is Going To Pay You Just to Show Up,” I argued technology, for the most part, has not allowed us to retire to a life of leisure as predicted decades ago. The current reality is that we may see many people resigned to an extensive period of unemployment or temporary work.

In my article in the Financial Post, I reference a report in Bloomberg Businessweek by Mike Dorning who cites U.S. employment data that is frightening. The portion of all men holding any kind of job in the United States is 63.5%, the lowest figure since 1948. And the lowest levels of unemployment is among young men.

Middle-income jobs are disappearing for a wide range of jobs. For example, the number of financial counselors and loan officers ages 25 to 34 has dropped 40 percent since 2007, outpacing the 30 percent drop in total jobs for the profession, according to the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. In the investment business we are seeing the replacement of financial analysts with quantitative analytic systems, and floor traders with trading algorithms. Mutual funds and traditional portfolio managers now compete against ETFs (exchange-traded funds), many of which offer completely automated strategies.

Even the professions are not spared by the impact of economic restructuring.

The number of hours logged by first-year and mid-level legal associates -- a productivity measure of young lawyers -- fell 12 percent from 2007 at some of New York’s largest law firms, says Jeff Grossman, national managing director of Wells Fargo Private Bank’s Legal Specialty. Architecture graduates ages 25 to 29 had the highest unemployment of the 57 degree programs surveyed by the Education Department in 2009.

What about the medical profession? CABG rates are continuing to fall, says cardiologist Jack Tu, co-author of the ICES report and team leader of the Canadian Cardiovascular Outcomes Research Team (CCORT). “Anecdotally, a lot of surgeons are concerned they don't have the [procedure] volume to meet their targets for [government] funding [as a cardiac centre],” says Tu, a senior scientist at ICES and Canada Research Chair in Health Services Research. Volumes will “definitely” continue to fall, resulting, eventually, in a surplus of cardiac surgeons, says Tu. “We need to stop training so many. They're not going to have a lot of work.” And several reports show that we continue to graduate far more teachers than the market place can absorb.

Sara Horowitz, founder and CEO of Freelancers Union, argues that the jobless future is here. Many people are already combining part-time work just to get by, she notes. In an article in Atlantic magazine, Horowitz writes that as of 2005, 30% of the workforce has participated in this “freelance economy,” and entrepreneurial activity has reached an all time high in 2010.

Some people—mostly Baby Boomers—still define a careers working in the same role/job or career field for their entire life or the majority of it. With the speed of technological change and the prospect of long-term economic problems, that’s just not realistic anymore than thinking the knowledge and skills acquired in college have a long shelf life.

What will the future of careers look like? The reality is that life in general, and working lives in particular, are getting longer and not shorter. No one can rely on any organization, even governments, to provide secure work for you for 3 or 4 decades. In the near future, it will not be uncommon for people to work well into their 70’s and 80’s, and retirement will be a distant memory.

Some career experts offer some startling predictions and advice.

In my Psychology Today article, “The End of Jobs As We Have Known Them,” I argue that the jobless future is already here. Futurist Jeremy Rifkin contends we are entirely a new phase in history, once characterized by a steady and inevitable decline of jobs. He says the world of work is being polarized into 2 forces: One, an information elite that controls the global economy; and the other, a growing number of displaced workers.

Penelope Trunk, Co-Founder of Brazen Careerist, suggests the younger generation should skip college because it’s a waste of time and resources, and no longer guarantees a long career, let alone employment. She also recommends internships, starting your own company and not presenting yourself in a linear way on a resume. Trunk argues “a fundamental shift is taking place, where the path to getting a job is massively circumventing college credentials. At the same time, the American public is fed up with the insane debts that colleges are expecting new grads to take on.”

Organizational structural changes have altered the nature of careers and jobs . Organizations have become “flatter” with fewer management levels as more work has become knowledge work. Project work and teamwork have also changed the nature of jobs.

Careers that once were viewed as progressions “up” a ladder are now often multidirectional and lateral. DeFillip and Arthur (1994) define these changes as the creation of the “boundaryless career,” where the career path is defined by the individual’s’ soft and hard skills, not by their formal education or experience.

Today, people need to gain “employability” rather than “secure employment.” To survive in a multi-career employees need to have multiple intelligences, resilience and employability—essentially survival tools. Jobs now are defined by expertise, multiple skills, not just uniform experience. Employees who continue to practice their skills repetitively without improvement or flexibility run the risk of making themselves obsolete. In that sense, static job mastery is a liability both for the individual and the organization. Your value as an employee is no longer “I am good at my job,” but “how much demand is there for my skills?” Just look at what happened to specialized computer programmers, who have no other IT skills.

Part of the wrenching dilemma of what will happen to careers lies in answering the question—What is work for? A means to an end—pay the bills? Self-actualization? Status and social position? To sustain a desirable lifestyle? And connected to that inquiry is the question of what purposes do business serve? To provide financial profit for the owners and shareholders? Increasingly that narrow view is no longer embraced, as evidences by the concerns about employee welfare, the welfare of our communities and the environment.

In his Harvard Business Review article, “Create a Meaningful Life through Meaningful Work,” author Umair Haque writes, “Maybe the real depression we’ve got to contend with isn’t merely one of how much economic output we’re generating – but what we’re putting out there and why. Call it a depression of human potential, a tale of human insignificance being willfully squandered.”

Recent studies from research at McKinsey conclude that providing meaningful work to employees was the most important contributing factor to a high level of engagement. In her book, The Progress Principle, author Teresa Amabile reports that of all the events that can deeply engage people in their work, the single most important factor was meaningful work. According to Ms. Amabile “Beyond affecting the well-being of employees, research shows that the ‘inner work life’ affects the bottom line.”

So do we begin to define work and careers as “inner work,” as well as “outer work?” Where life challenges, self-fulfillment, meaning and social network occupy equal importance. Yet, when you’re unemployed, these considerations seem frivolous.
Whose responsibility is it for an individual’s career? In the past, particularly in North America, it has been the individual’s. Today, we see more progressive organizations are sharing that responsibility, in an effort to retain talent and keep job satisfaction high.

As we go through this huge redefinition of what constitutes a career, both future and current workers would be advised to consider the following advice:

1. Take responsibility for managing your own career. Don’t wait until you’re fired, laid off, burned out or fed up to revitalize your career. Manage your career on an ongoing basis, particularly through the good times. This includes becoming your own benefits manager;
2. Realize that the old social contract—employee work in return from employer loyalty and job security-- is dead. Even if you work for someone else, think of yourself as an entrepreneur;
3. Become comfortable with change. It’s likely you’ll be in several careers during your lifetime, sometimes as a result of changes outside your control;
4. Establish and develop a strong social network. Connecting with people on an ongoing basis will strengthen your capacity to manage your career;
5. Create and develop your own personal brand. To be marketable in the workplace, you need more than experience and an education. You are more than your job, and being able to see and promote who you are in totality, makes you more marketable;
6. Establish and develop your professional reputation. It’s portable, and hugely affected by social media. A positive reputation can make or break individuals or organizations;
7. Accept that you are more than your job. Whether you love or hate your job, making it your identity is a big mistake. Reflect on what legacy you want to leave in life, and be happy with your definition of personal, success.

The reality is that our traditional notion of a career is obsolete and not likely to return.

Author's Bio: 

Ray is owner and President of Ray Williams Associates, a
Vancouver based company providing executive coaching and leadership training services which provides products and services for leadership and executive development, and training programs for business owners, entrepreneurs and professionals, and professional speaking services.

Ray brings over 35 years experience to his businesses as a CEO, senior HR executive, Certified Management Consultant, leadership trainer and executive coach. Ray is also a Certified Hypnotherapist, Certified Executive Coach and Master NLP Coach and Trainer. He is widely regarded as one of Canada's top executive coaches.

Ray is the recipient of the Master Educator Award from the American Society of Education Executives, and is also past President of the International Coach Federation in Vancouver. He has worked as a consultant with a variety of Fortune 1000 companies and small to medium sized businesses and non-profit organizations in the areas of leadership, organizational development, and team development and peak performance. He is very active in such organizations as the Vancouver Board of Trade, having recently served as Vice-Chair, and other professional and community service organizations.

Ray is a regular contributor for the Financial Post, Fast Company and Psychology Today, Salon, and has written scores of articles for other newspapers and professional publications. He has written two books on leadership, The Leadership Edge, and Systemic Change, a personal growth book, Breaking Bad Habits, and is a regular guest on various radio shows such as the Good Life Radio Show, with over 10 million listeners. In his spare time, Ray has written several novels, the latest of which Dragon Tamer, was published in 2003, and for which he also wrote a screenplay for a movie.

Ray is in high demand as an executive coach, leadership trainer, mentor, relationships expert, platform speaker, workshop presenter and facilitator throughout North America. Ray is passionate about using his wide-ranging experience to help individuals and organizations make the changes in their lives to reach their best possible selves, find fulfillment and happiness. His unique education, training and life experience, passion for life and people make him much in demand for those who want real change and challenge.