Working in the 21st Century

work-in-the-21st-centuryAs I welcome in the beginning of another new year, I reflect upon what has just passed, what’s occurring in the present and what’s to come. I think it’s an important career management strategy for us all.

As a Career Management Professional providing services to clients in the 21st century, I never cease to be amazed at the pace of change taking place in how people work and the type of work that’s being done. Below are some of those notable changes.

“Job Churn”

Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau commented that Canadians should get used to what he called “job churn” — short-term employment that may include a number of career changes. The idea of working for the same organization over a single career seems to be a dream of the past.

Working from home

The trend is for workers to work from home in an ever-increasing amount. There are both advantages and disadvantages to this arrangement. For the employee it offers flexibility like being able to avoid lengthy commutes into work, being able to access emails from the comfort of one’s home or starting and finishing a workday earlier. Disadvantages include less face-to-face interactions with other staff working at the office that could lead to reduced levels of engagement for team members working from home over the long run.

Companies could help overcome this problem by implementing regular catch-up meetings, Skype, video conferencing or negotiating a schedule where workers work from home only part of every week and come into the office the other days.

The age of the mobile device

The 21st century has certainly started off as the age of the smart mobile device. Workers who spend time outside of work connected to email or working remotely on their “off time” are at risk of experiencing heavier amounts of stress than workers who don’t. Employers more and more expect their employees to remain connected through their mobile devices and as a result workers are emailing during their precious off hours which should be reserved for personal self-care time.

The “Data Scientist”

The types of jobs we are doing are changing. The workforce has become increasingly urban. Technology has reduced the workers needed for manufacturing in the 21st century. Along with this shift, manufacturing jobs have declined while the service industry (particularly healthcare) has picked up the slack. As our population ages, the healthcare industry will continue to grow.

Despite the shift in the kinds of jobs that are now available, not everyone is ready for this 21st century workforce. We hear about a disconnect between the jobs that are in demand and the training that is available.

During the 21st century companies and government have been increasingly collecting data on everything we do. This glut of data means an increasing need for data scientists who can analyze and interpret it. You’ll find data scientists working in start-ups and established businesses but there’s a shortage of them…at least for now.

Rising age of retirement

What’s behind this slow but steady rise in the retirement age? Part of it is due to workers (myself included) who need to stay employed longer out of financial need. It’s also because some baby boomers just don’t want to retire yet and have chosen instead to work longer.

Retirement and work are no longer mutually exclusive. Individuals who work in retirement, seek out jobs that meet their needs and preferences like a work culture of respect, work-fit and learning opportunities. Self-employment is an attractive option for mature workers, particularly for those unable to find a flexible and suitable workplace.

The “Contingent Worker”

Contingent workers are freelancers, independent contractors, consultants, or other outsourced and non-permanent workers who are hired on a per-project basis. They can work on site or remotely. Contingent workers are highly skilled experts in their fields. They are workers hired to complete specified projects and tasks. Once the project is over, they leave, but may be called back when another project arises. They are not employees of a company and therefore the business that contracts them has no responsibility to provide continuous work on a permanent basis.

For business owners, the advantages of a contingent workforce are mostly financial. They do not have to collect and pay taxes from the workers’ pay cheques. They don’t have to offer health benefits, provide paid sick days and vacation days or pay for overtime. This not only saves them significant money associated with recruiting and hiring permanent employees, but it also allows them to save on administrative costs associated with payroll and human resources, too.


And then there’s the “uber-ization” of just about anything and everything these days. It’s changing the way we buy products and services.  It all started with the taxi sector when you could tap your Uber app on your smartphone screen and a taxi appears ‘automagically’ – as if by magic.  The Uber app tells you the expected price you’ll pay before you get in, and when you arrive there’s no messing with cash, cards, tips or receipts – the Uber app automatically debits your Uber account and issues a digital receipt.

Uber is the leading example of ‘convenience-tech’’; technology that buys you time and saves you effort. From new on-demand mobile services for a haircut, renting by the hour a parking space, designer handbag or sharing tools, providing small or large-scale home renovation and repair services, home cleaning, grass cutting, driveway shoveling, medical services and even bodyguards. Uber-style businesses have become the new trend for start-up businesses. But are they fully legitimate businesses? Do they need to collect taxes, declare all income earned as self-employment income, register for municipal business licenses and respect municipal bylaws? And are these Uber and AirBnB inspired ventures that make up the sharing economy just further evidence of a rapid transition to a more part-time and freelance focused workforce?

These are just some of the changes afoot in the 21st century of work. How prepared are you to adjust with them so you remain in a position to ride the waves of change?

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