The wonderful, weird, worrying future of employment

For a generation of new college graduates, the future is not what they expected. 

It had seemed so easy:  get a BA, go get a job at an investment bank or a big company, make lots of money and the rest would take care of itself.

But “the rest” didn’t take care of itself – and as industry after industry has been roiled by social and technological change, there is an increasing drumbeat that “there has to be a better way” to handle work.  “The future of work” is big news in the media, even a Time Magazine cover story last week.

Meanwhile, the easy future is no longer an option.  According to a terrifying report from ABC News, only 20% of new BA’s are finding a full-time job right after college.  As these students try to piece together a healthy economic life with the tools they have, they are the unwilling vanguard into the new economy.

But what will the future of work look like?  What trends will be most important, what skills will be valued, and what will a “day at the office” look like?

Kathia Laszlo, a Saybrook faculty member in Organizational Systems, says that much of the current chaos in the economy comes from the fact that “We have created an artificial separation between work, learning and life.”


“We are still victims of industrial age thinking, that arose when there were plenty natural resources and scarce human capital,” she says.  “But the equation has reverted: we have scarce natural resources and plenty human capital.”

As a result:  “Instead of making a living, new generations will have to make a life: find their higher purpose and craft a unique way of existence that will allow them to satisfy their material needs while utilizing their gifts,” she says.  And that means that “Working, learning and enjoying life won’t have to be separated. Localization of economies will become a necessity, linked to watersheds and local food production, while the increasing interconnectivity through information technologies will continue to enable a global mindset as well as collaboration opportunities regardless of geographical distance.”

That fits with the trends that K.A. Lalsingh has been seeing.  Lalsingh, a proposal analyst, life/leadership coach, and PhD student in Organizational Systems, says that when people look for “work” in the new economy, they’ll have something different in mind. 

“Work no longer means career development but personal and skill development,” she says.  “Work is no longer where one goes but what one does with what one knows.”

In practice, that will mean a new set of expectations, and skill sets, will be prized.  “Along with practice and skill development, students and graduates will also want to remember that, in today’s diverse marketplace, high tech is not enough,” she says.  “High touch is also very important. Graduates will want to learn how to be in relationship with people whose perspectives and life experiences are very different from their own. How can they remain open to new learning? How can they engage others as whole persons? How can they be fully present? How can they remain authentic?”

Those are the kinds of skills that are most difficult to get in a conventional BA program, especially for the young. 

“It is important for graduates to shift their worldview and divorce themselves from the notion that they can walk off the graduation stage into a high-paying career position,” Lalsingh says.  “They will want to view graduation as the beginning rather than as the end; what got them to graduation will not get them to their career. Like physicians who have to intern and practice, graduates will have to apply their knowledge in resourceful ways and they will have to expect to be tempered by time and strengthened by multiple experiences. What do they have to offer? What are their strengths? How can they continue to learn? How can they contribute to community? How can they act responsibly for future generations?”

It sounds difficult, and to some extent it surely will be – complex, people related, skills are much more difficult to practice than a technical certification or a licensing exam.  But the good news, Laszlo says, is that the more these skills are integrated into the work force, the more satisfying and meaningful the work of the future can be.

“Knowledge workers have been on the rise since the 1980s and they have redefined work through the integration of learning, design and collaboration as key elements for innovation and increased productivity,” she says – and that redefinition isn’t over.  “In the future, we will see not only more knowledge workers, but also knowledge citizens: people actively engaged in creating and recreating communities as more just, livable, sustainable places for all to thrive.”


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