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Given that she’s only 19 days old, perhaps it’s too soon for me to be thinking about my daughter’s career. Yet two recent articles got me thinking about the deep changes our economy is going through, and what these tectonic shifts are going to mean for her generation.
In Time Magazine, Fareed Zakaria pointed out that there are basically three types of jobs in America.
Unskilled service jobs (such as waiter or security guard)
Skilled, routine jobs (such as sales, office management and factory workers)
Managerial, technical and professional jobs (such as executives, entrepreneurs and doctors)
In other words, you can flip burgers, shuffle papers or innovate. And over the last 100 years, our country has been built on the backs of “middle America”; the hard working men and women who worked 9-5 jobs, and did the work they were told to, so they could bring their paychecks home to their families.
The majority of today’s middle class jobs involve skilled but routine work; it can be boring and unfulfilling, but at least is safe and predictable.
Perhaps this is why Dilbert is one of our funniest, most popular cartoons. I mean, who can’t relate to the idiocies and inefficiencies in his world?
But here’s the thing. Dilbert is dying.
While the number of unskilled jobs and professional jobs have both been increasing, even in the face of this recession, the number of skilled, routine jobs — the bread and butter work of the middle class — is falling through the floor.
One of the fundamental requirements of business is the incessant drive to “automate or delegate.” Successful entrepreneurs and executives are constantly looking for ways to offload the 90% (the urgent but routine tasks that so quickly fill up each day) so they can focus on the 10% (the important, innovative work that makes all the difference in the longer term.)
Up until 10 years ago, the most efficient way to do this was to build a factory or office building, fill it with employees, and create handbooks that spelled out every aspect of their jobs. However, the twin forces of technology and globalization have changed that.
Today, the first choice is to get a computer to do something. The second choice is to hire someone in China or India to do it. Then it’s only if those two options fail that it actually makes sense to hire someone in America and pay them a decent, living wage.
This shift isn’t something that’s going to go away. And it’s not something that can be solved by passing new laws, by getting mad at people, or by creating yet another investment bubble.
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