December 11th, 2018

The Nature of Work is Changing. What Are You Doing to Keep Your Place?

How often do you think about the future?

I don't mean about the details. The kind of house you'd like to live in or the car you'd like to drive or the job title you'd like to have. 

How often do you think about the career you'd like to build? The skills you'd like to gain. The difference you'd like to make.

You spend about 1/3rd of your life at work. And that's without counting all the time you spend thinking and worrying about work in the middle of the night. 

And yet...

How often do you think about the future of your job, of your sector, of your industry? How often do you think about the evolution of your role in all of it? 

I want to share one simple step you can take to secure that future but first let's take a quick look at what it may hold. 

My industry is changing, but my job is safe

In 2016, PEW research discovered something rather interesting:

About 65% of Americans believe that over the next 50 years, most of the jobs we currently do will be automated and done by robots and computers. Yet 80% believe their own jobs will be quite safe. This includes people who work in manual labor (82%) and perform clerical tasks (74%), the exact industries we are currently in the process of automating.

Just think that for a moment. Almost everyone who believes that most jobs will be automated also believes that their own job will be safe. 

That's partly because people are really bad at predicting the future. 

Would you like to know your future?

When sociologists Edward Brent and Donald Granberg studied presidential elections in the US between 1952 and 1980 they discovered something fascinating. Something that's very telling about the way we think. The researchers found that 80% of people who supported a particular candidate expected their candidate to win. 

The more we'd like something to happen, the more likely we are to predict it will happen in the future. So because most of us want to keep our jobs, we predict that we'll be quite safe. 

That won't happen to me...

When we are faced with an outcome that scares us - like losing a job, living through a recession or watching our industry change so dramatically it becomes unrecognizable - we predict that it's unlikely to happen to us. 

How many people imagined the great recession in 08 was possible - and that it would have a major impact on their lives - before it happened? Hardly anyone. Even though there's plenty of historical precedent.

Market crashes consistently happen every decade or so. The scale may (and does) change, but the regularity has been relatively consistent ever since the Great Depression in the 1920s. So before 08, we'd experienced a crash roughly once every ten years. If you were in your 40s in 08, it means you'd lived through about 3 of them. And yet we still didn't see it coming. 

That's because our brains favor desirable outcomes and try to shut off the undesirable ones as quickly as possible. 

Globalization, the economy and the future

We see bad things as less likely to happen to us than to other people and to the national average. The same is true when it comes to our jobs.

We failed to predict globalization and the impact it has on our economy. We failed to accurately predict the impact of technology. And yet - because our brains aim to create consistent narratives about who we are and what we do - we tend to forget all the times we were wrong and remain pretty confident in our ability to get it right. 

This puts you at a disadvantage. Because how can you prepare yourself for continuous market participation when you have no idea what the economy will look like in twenty years? 

The things you can control (and those you can't)

In your life - and in your career - there are things you have a measure of control over. And there are things you, as an individual, have very limited power over. 

You can't control market crashes or shifts in the global economy. You can't control which skills are needed and which are past their time. But there are things you can do. Before we get into the specifics, there's one important thing we should talk about: timing. 

Timing affects your job prospects, the people you work with, the company you work for and the shape of your life. It's also one of those things that you can't (explicitly) control. But understanding how it works - how it affects you and the people around you - could give you a fascinating advantage. One that's almost strong enough to fight how bad we are at making predictions. 

When something happens...

How much does timing affect your job prospects and the prospects of the people around you?

Lisa Kahn, an economist from Yale, studied the graduation rates of white males during the 1980s.* She used the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth to select a group of white males who graduated between 79 and 89, then studied what happened to them over a 20 year period. 

Kahn found that the year they entered the job market had a big impact on future success. Those who entered during the recession when unemployment rates were high consistently earned less over time than those who started their careers when unemployment rates were low. That initial disadvantage - caused by something as arbitrary and uncontrollable as time - did not disappear over the 20 year period.

The effects of timing run deep

When we enter the job market matters. Modern-day Pittsburgh is a very interesting example of that. Pittsburgh used to be the steel and iron capital of the US. If you wanted a decent job in an industry that looked ready to stand the test of time, that's where you went. Until the industry collapsed 30 years ago. 

Today, thanks to Pittsburgh University and the Carnegie Mellon Institute who provide great local talent, Pittsburgh is becoming very attractive to tech companies. A new generation is embracing a booming industry and a bright future. 

The people who entered the steel industry thinking it was the future were roughly the same age as those entering the tech industry today. But a difference in timing led to very different lives. Lives that they weren't expecting to live. 

A lot of Pittsburgh's older residents are feeling left behind by the tech boom. They don't feel they have the skills, the relationships and the know-how to be a part of this new growing industry. And it's all because of timing.

Let's take this forty years into our future. The leading industry may be something we can't even imagine today. So what steps can you take to make sure your future looks closer to the image in your mind versus the reality the older residents of Pittsburgh and other post-industrial towns are facing? 

Referrals, relationships and paying it forward

The idea that our future isn't set in stone - and that we have almost no control over external events - isn't a comforting one. That's why most of us try to largely ignore it and take comfort in our relatively optimistic predictions. We feel safe in the belief that if we work hard enough, things will turn out ok. But this doesn't take the changing face of industry into account. 

You don't have to spend your time planning for dire eventualities in order to be prepared. Instead, you can tap into a very particular kind of super-power. One that will make you feel good, help your career and help you help others. The power of forging strong relationships. 

Relationships affect your success more than you think 

The Carnegie Foundation run an experiment studying the link between success and relationships. Here's what they found:

Even in such technical lines as engineering, about 15 percent of one's financial success is due to one's technical knowledge and about 85% is due to the skill of human engineering- to personality and the ability to lead people. 

A big part of your success depends on your ability to form relationships with other people. Helping others and building a support network drastically improves your chances of success.

One of the easiest ways to do that is by referring great candidates for open positions at the company you work for. This is a great way to pay it forward by connecting awesome people to great opportunities. And it's way to pay it forward to your future self. 

Making the right referral helps everyone

Employee referrals have the highest applicant to hire conversion rate. While only 7% apply, they make up 40% of hires. 

Part of that is because, as an insider, you have a better idea of what your team needs. It's hard to distill the essence of a person down to a job ad or a resume. Simple things like the way a job ad is written, how the requirements are presented and what skills are emphasized can prevent candidates who'll be a great fit from applying. Even when candidates do apply, those with non-traditional work experience can find it hard to distill it down to a two-page resume. 

As a referrer, you have the opportunity to connect someone to their dream job by getting to know what drives them, what they want to get out of working at your company and what they really bring to the table. 

Building your own support network

Nothing in life is permanent. Our lives and our economy is moving forward into uncharted territory. You can set yourself up for success in those murky waters by building a network of people who can help you when you need it.