Informal Publications


The Disappearance of “The Job”     - W. Hugh Chatfield  I.S.P

A few years ago I found myself caught up in a 'downsizing' exercise. Within an hour I went from long term hi-tech company employee to unemployed individual wondering what to do next.

Downsized employees these days typically find themselves in an outplacement agency (one of the true growth industries of our time). During my time at outplacement I had time to research, think, and discuss with dozens of people in a similar situation. These essays and observations are part of what I learned and the impetus behind the incorporation of CyberSpace Industries.

The newspapers, journals, and research reports were filled with observations and predictions.

"what is disappearing is not just a certain number of jobs, or jobs in certain industries, or jobs in some parts of the country - or even jobs in America as a whole. What is disappearing is the very thing itself: the job"

William Bridges - Jobshift: How to prosper in a workplace without jobs

Many newspapers, journals, research papers gave out the bad news. By end of this decade, predictions are that the work force will be drastically different than today. Job security is already dead even for highly trained / educated individuals. Many of the people I met in outplacement were senior managers, engineers, company founders and executives. Hierarchical management structures are quickly dying. A model presented for the future is that a company's work force will be made up of:

  1. core employees - which continually change as new skills are required

  2. contract - long term contract employees

  3. fee for service

On the wall of the outplacement agency was a newspaper article talking about "home based businesses". A key problem was the isolation - the lack of networking that typically goes on in any reasonably sized organization. I didn't experience this, since at the time I was on Freenet and Compuserve and was quite at home networking on line. This was the start of the thinking about the technology that could be used to aid the contract/contingency employees.

Most articles on the subject took a company centered view, focussed on how to make a company run optimally. To the "unemployed' person, a more useful view is the person centred view and how the contract / contingency person can optimize their environment. Any person in the future may over his/her work life be alternately a core / contract / or contingency person. How will this group of people work? How could they collaborate, and form "virtual corporations" which could compete for contracts? How can this set of people empower themselves - to take charge of their own futures? Since an employer cannot supply job security, what mechanism will supply the job security?

Job security comes from within the individual.

However as Tom Peters has pointed out -

"You need to have an entrepreneurial spirit, definable skills, and an ability to articulate and market them, but that is exactly what the bulk of the population holed up inside bureaucratic organizations doesn't have, and why they are scared to death."

... and these are the bulk of the people who will make up the contract/contingency group.

I decided on several things:

  1. There are / will be technological solutions which can utilized to support the contract/contingency group.

  2. There was also a clear need to focus on the contract and contingency employees and how they would work in the future. (The corporations can and will take care of themselves)

  3. The terms in use such as "Home Based Business" or "self-employed" or "private consultant" didn't convey the nuance required for the future. I coined the term "microBusiness" to represent the corporate entity which the individuals in this group would belong to.

  4. Multiple microBusiness could dynamically form a Virtual Corporation (assuming the technological infrastructure (Cyberspace) was in place, at a reasonable price) to work on particular contracts, or even carry out research and development.

  5. The architecture of this Cyberspace would be critical to the overall success.

The literature contained much of what functions this Cyberspace had to support:

  1. Bringing people together

  2. Computer conferencing (asynchronous 24 hr a day conferences)

  3. E-Mail (ability to reach people worldwide by Fax/letter, multimedia mail)

  4. Personnel data base ( searchable - up-dateable dynamically by person)

  5. Idea data base (is the WWW not a richly interconnected set of information, ideas, and people?)
    People working together

  6. groupware in the operating systems

  7. broadband communications to the home

  8. multimedia work areas ( a VT100 with a 1200 baud connection just isn't going to cut it)
    Acquiring new skills

  9. just in time (JIT) training services

The JIT training is particularly interesting. Your skills today could be obsolete in 3-5 years time or less. JIT training is an idea currently being implemented today which could help with this problem.

You could make the point that you are never without skills - only your knowledge base associated with that skill has gone stale. You may have good programming skills but not know C++. You may have 20 years in data base technology, but have no experience with Microsoft Access. You understand about information systems but not know anything about document engineering and SGML.

The old 'corporate' way was to send you off on a 1 day to 2 week training course, long before you have to use the material on the job. All you had at the end of the course was your course notes and your memory. Maybe you never did get an opportunity to use the course you took.

The idea behind JIT training is that you can gain access to good packages of training material that can be delivered to your desktop, as you need it. You access it as you proceed with your contract. You can always go back and review the material since it is always online.

The astute reader might say that if all this technology is available, it is also available to people inside corporations, so maybe they will never join the ranks of the 'self employed'. Maybe!

Consider the following from the IEEE Spectrum 1994 - "Engineering Layoffs: Facts and Myths

  1. Myths:

  2. - Being at the cutting edge of technology makes an engineer desirable

  3. - Having many talents will set an engineer apart from the crowd

  4. - Skills learned in defense work can be easily converted to civilian work

  5. - Continuing education or re-education will keep an engineer employable

  6. Fact:

  7. - The salaries of full time engineers are falling

  8. - Some survival strategies may threaten a company's technical vitality

  9. - The demand for temporary engineers is booming and compensation is high

  10. - Some observers suggest the full-time job is disappearing

  11. - Today, more than technical skills are needed to find work

" Today's organization is rapidly being transformed from a structure built out of jobs into a field of 'work needing to be done'.

Most of that work takes the form of individual projects, such as the development of a particular product. So it is becoming increasingly common for people to be hired only for the duration of the project, and released when the project is completed.

Jobs are no longer socially adaptive to organizational needs, and so they are going the way of the dinosaur. In the "post-job world", workers, including white-collar professionals such as engineers, will survive only if they operate as if they were self-employed - even if they still happen to have a full-time position."