The post-job economy

Learning may be the work in the network age, but that does not mean that learning will get you the work. Inge De Waard discusses this in MOOCs change education, but jobs decline in a knowledge era:

The simple truth is that not all of us get jobs even when graduating from universities, and if MOOCs add to that particular degree market (universities), we are stuck, for indeed if even the ones that graduate now are not always finding jobs, with the declining job market in mind, most of the new wave of graduates will get stuck as well. A knowledge era is a fine thing, it sounds great … for a minority of people. So how do we (re)find a balance between jobs and people having them?

I’ve highlighted Inge’s question because other people are asking similar ones. Much of my professional focus is about learning at work, and improving how people collaborate, cooperate and innovate in internet time. I call it sense-making for the connected workplace. Helping people adapt to this type of workplace is a big challenge. An even bigger challenge, for which I do not have any simple answers, is: How do people adapt to a post-job society?

Many MOOC’s are based on an educational model that has a curriculum from a body of knowledge that, so the logic goes, when mastered will prepare someone for meaningful work. Improving one’s education to get a job is often a primary motivator for participation. It’s the way the system has worked for decades. The “job” was the way we redistributed wealth, making capitalists pay for the means of production and in return creating a middle class that could pay for mass produced goods. That period is almost over. America has hit peak jobs TechCrunch informs us. The New York Times calls it  the rise of the permanent temp economy. The recession, combined with technology, is killing middle class jobs, reports the Associated Press.

We will not find a rebalance between jobs and people having them.

We have connected the world so that data and information can flow in the  blink of an eye. There are fewer information asymmetries, as companies like Amazon bust down one industry after another. One recent example is a local startup that is reducing information asymmetry in the used car business. This interconnectedness and increasing computational power will continue to automate work and outsource any job that can be standardized. New businesses are employing fewer employees, while manufacturing is moving to an increased use of robots.

One of my clients is an educational institution and I was heartened to learn that they are moving away from job preparation to a focus on entrepreneurship. They see the numbers. Their graduates are not getting jobs. Creating our own work will be the only option for many of us.

Ross Dawson provides some good advice on what we can do to prepare for a post-job economy.

As I often say, in a connected world, unless your skills are world-class, you are a commodity.

However there are three domains in which individuals and organizations can transcend commoditization and push their value creation to the other end of the spectrum, where they can command their price and choose their work.
The three domains are:


The future is stark. There will be a large and increasing divide between those who have one or more of these core strengths, and those who do not and whose livelihoods are on an ongoing path of commoditization.

labour and talent


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32 Responses to “The post-job economy”

  1. Jon Husband

    I was just going to say “Yup” but WordPress told me my comment was too short.

    So I had to type in the extra words above.

  2. Claudia

    I’ve noticed a lot of people aren’t prepared for a post-job economy. Students are one group. Another consists of people in their forties or fifties who’ve been laid off and spend quite some time trying to get another job. Some turn to entrepreneurship after a while, but others seem to resign themselves to the situation. They keep writing letters/emails because that’s what you’re expected to do, even though after a year or two they’re at the back of a very long queue of other job seekers.

  3. Lía

    For a lot of people a post-job economy is a fact, a sad one fact, not a theory. The post clearly shows the situation.

    But, at the same time, every time I read “the post-job economy” I start to be worried about our common future as humanity. As Claudia said, there are a lot of people without the capability or resources to change in order to adapted on time.

    I feel responsible for me and for other people in our planet. Now, I know that life is a network, and that means our interdependence.
    On this context, is the idea of post-job economy a kind of darwinian way to select the population? I hope not.

    In other sense, I have now a picture of the situation. My questions are: What can I do to build an inclusive world? But, more important, I start to think about “the kind of balance” between jobs and people of which Inge De Waard is talking about. How do we do to (re)find a balance between jobs and people [that don’t have] them?

    Sorry if I sound rude or strict. My English level isn’t the best and I feel a lose of softness in my words, but it doesn’t my intention. I appreciate a lot your posts and the readers’ comments.

    • Harold Jarche

      Thank you for your comments, Lia. We face many wicked problems as I’ve noted before.

      We, collectively, are the solution to our problems. We just have not figured out how to get optimally organized. Network theory, for example, can provide many of the answers. The first step is seeing that we have a problem and that our current work models are inadequate. Doing the same things better will not help. Looking outward, beyond our organizations, can enable cooperative behaviour. Casting off old management models, like jobs and organization charts, is another step. Shifting to a networked economy is going to take cooperation, and that only happens when we let go of control, just the opposite of FW Taylor’s principles of scientific management which have informed us for the past century. Here are my “Principles of Networked Unmanagement”:

      It is only through innovative and contextual methods, the self-selection of the most appropriate tools and work conditions, and willing cooperation that more productive work can be assured. The duty of being transparent in our work and sharing our knowledge rests with all workers.

      Perhaps changing our worldview is the best place to start.

  4. Lía

    Thanks for your clear answer. I agree with your perspective. I work with parents and educators and I always say that I work to “the coexistence as creating and maintaining reliable networks ties” (in Spanish: “El convivir como creación y sostenimiento de redes de vínculos confiables).
    I’ve just read the posts “It’s the worldview, stupid”. and “a wicked problem” and was enriching. I’ll see the movie. (I was on holidays and I started to read your posts from the last one).
    Thanks again,

  5. Dave Ferguson

    Possibly a tangent, but it seems to tie into a lot of what you’ve said here and elsehwere:

    Just yesterday I was reading this New York Times article, High Debt and Falling Demand Trap New Vet(erinarian)s.

    What really struck me — and I don’t even own a pet — is that a 30-year-old vet has $312,000 in student loans. Median cost of vet school is $63,000 a year for out-of-state; starting salary afterward is $45,575.

    Yet more vet schools are opening, and there are shortages in areas — but the vets can’t earn a living in, say, rural Colorado.

  6. Jim Lerman

    Thanks to Scott McLoed (TEDx talk at, I can offer a slight variation on your trenchant observation, Harold.

    Scott speaks about how “place-based jobs” may have considerable staying power. Such jobs are difficult to routinize and require a human presence. Some examples would be police, fire fighters, nurses, chefs, beauticians, performing artists, building tradespeople, emergency service workers, and military personnel. These may not be totally immune to standardization/automation, but they are certainly resistant to some degree.

    I think this poses an interesting counterpoint to the high-skills/low-skills dichotomy. Not to say that the dichotomy is inaccurate, just that there are some important nuances that we can see now, and hopefully some more will emerge in the future. Thank you for mentioning Ross Dawson’s three domains; they offer a very interesting scheme of analysis.

  7. Jon Husband

    Scott speaks about how “place-based jobs” may have considerable staying power. Such jobs are difficult to routinize and require a human presence. Some examples would be police, fire fighters, nurses, chefs, beauticians, performing artists, building tradespeople, emergency service workers, and military personnel. These may not be totally immune to standardization/automation, but they are certainly resistant to some degree.

    I think this is fundamentally correct. There is much work, and many people involved in doing the work, that keeps the basic infrastructure of society held together. But / and they are typically core coherent sets of relatively easy-to-master vocational skills … deltas and some gammas in Brave New World. The even-more-routine work will be automated, and maybe tended to by a human somewhere somehow .. and then there’s the freelance and impermanent world of knowledge, skills, capabilities and motivations, all of which will perforce shift from purpose to purpose, project by project, capability-set by capability-set. Beta-plus and Alpha work. And taken as a whole, things will be very very different. Pleasantville 2.0 .. from black-and-white to techni-colour.

  8. Michele Martin

    Great post, Harold–issues I’m struggling with as I advise people on what to do to plan for the future. I see technology having HUGE impacts that we aren’t yet able to grapple with, both as a society and in terms of our individual careers. I think that there are some things we can do to “future-proof” ourselves, but overall, I think this is going to be something that we have to address on a much larger scale than I see happening now.

    As I look at the possibilities, I see a utopian option, where technology frees up humans to live lives of leisure. But that would mean utterly revising our notions about work and capitalism and I don’t see us even going there.

    What seems more likely is the dystopian possibility of a tiny fraction of people enjoying a high standard of living, while the rest of us fight over the scraps. Unless we see some major changes in how we’re thinking about and engaging with the pace and nature of technological change, I think we’re in for a world of hurt.

  9. Joe Beckmann

    The impending crisis is not merely one of jobs. In the US at least, college loans cannot be discharged through bankruptcy, and are valid until fully paid. Many are insured by the government, and their interest rate reflects a policy of protection. Yet many are not, and even those government insured loans are only as safe as Congress would have them be.
    What this really means is that the Stafford Loan program, which is due to double its interest to over 20% as soon as July, will become an instrument of slavery, since a $140,000 college loan could NEVER be fully paid by an underemployed B.A.
    That’s a fairly dramatic implication to a changing pattern of BOTH labor and education, and most certainly worth some serious consideration. I wonder about student loans in other economies, and mobility impediments created by retributive payment policies….
    It makes Huxley look like a joyride.

  10. virginia yonkers

    You did not address the way in which people are hired/laid off in this new economy. Some professionals I’ve spoke to have indicated that there is age discrimination which is easily covered up through the computerized filtration process now used with online applications.

    While companies say they can’t find employees with skills (so expect colleges and universities to train in specific content rather than skills and lower paid workers are hired from other parts of the world-their excuse for abandoning factory towns that are expensive to retool), it doesn’t mean there are no employees with those skills. It’s just that they have set up a system which allows them to “prove” there are no ideal candidates. As much as they say they want the trainable candidate, that employee will be filtered out of the hiring pool.

  11. Tom Hood


    I have been a fan of your work for quite awhile and this is a great article that sums up our hyper-connected, hyper-competitive world. The quote by Ross Dawson sums it all up nicely, “As I often say, in a connected world, unless your skills are world-class, you are a commodity.”

    Reminds me of a talk by Tom Friedman (World is Flat & NYTimes columnist) when he says, “Average is Officially Over”.

    The exclamation point on all of this is the constant upgrading of our own skills, constant development of our networks and relationships, and ability to innovate are the only competitive advantage available. And that is only if, this process is continuous.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and insights.


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