The Global Revolution In Jobs: When Did This Happen?

As we continue our journey through the second decade of the 21st Century, we continue to bump up against of outdated definitions and old limits to how the world works. Even how we work. A few days ago I saw an interesting question posed on Linked-In. Anibal (Joe) Cardenas, set up a poll (three’s still time for you to offer your opinions!) and asked, “Should every qualified human being in the Planet be allowed to work in any part of the World without a Work Visa?” That’s an interesting and very controversial question! In a world where outsourcing is so hotly debated, and there is so much fear that our employers want to ship our jobs around the world, a lot of people don’t want to think about global competition that’s this direct. However, this isn’t a question that we should ignore. There are more people taking “global” jobs than you are probably aware of. And this trend is likely to accelerate. This is such a big topic that to do it justice, it needs to be dealt with in several separate Blogs. Let’s dive in and start with global jobs and see if we can figure out what’s going on.

The old world order was that the well-paying jobs and sophisticated work resided  in the “developed” countries, with other areas of the world providing resources: basic labor, raw industrial materials, food. Top-level executives, sales staff and a few consultants traveled around the world, but day to day work was generally performed according to the “developed” vs. “undeveloped” world roles, with little mobility for most positions. Different political factions consumed much of the last century arguing about which tweaks to this system would yield the best distribution of wealth, power and control… IF the world ran according to their system and followed ridged economic and political rules. Then a strange thing happened. The next revolution in work didn’t come from political parties, or governments or big corporations. Instead, the way we work, even where we work, has been shaped by the explosion in social media and the personalization of collaboration tools.

Over time, work has evolved. At the start of the last century most of the workers in the world worked on farms, including the U.S. The most technologically developed nations were just beginning to convert to manufacturing economies. As expertise in manufacturing increased, factories themselves (or oil refineries, or industrial processing centers) could be built and shipped to undeveloped areas. These isolated areas might lead to other developments, leap-frogging the development of the rest of the country. By the end of the last century, almost half of the world’s workers and many countries were still agricultural. The next stage was the evolution to service economies, based on the use of computers,
telecommunications and human brain power.

These “Intellectual labor” jobs are usually the highest paying and most desirable, as well as being the least anchored to any physical location.  And that brings us to the unexpected
revolution of the 21st century, the talent based economy. You need to have all the changes to the employment market that we discussed (and many others that we haven’t discussed), to move the focus of job evolution from governments and corporations to people. The new element that is fueling this revolution is social media and personal collaboration tools. For a number of years global talent… musicians, writers, graphic artists, software designers, researchers… have performed much or all of their work from their laptops and cell phones. People with these talents were the first to experience the
revolution because of three factors:

  • Intellectual labor: These creative professions are all forms of intellectual labor. It’s easier, faster and cheaper to move photons around the world than to move atoms. You don’t need special knowledge or expensive equipment to collaborate with other talented global workers. You can send work via email, or have meetings via Skype, or set up templates in a global repository using free tools from Google or Microsoft.
  • Project based: If you are an artist, a consultant, document editor or lawyer (to
    name just a few positions) you work on projects. Work has a specific start and
    end, with many processes in between that repeat from project to project. Often,
    project workers are employed for just the one project, and must hunt for the next job when it ends. You may own your own firm and hunt for new clients, or you may work as a freelancer and develop a list of firms that can provide you with projects. Either way, want what social media provides, a way to connect to a larger market place of potential projects.
  • Global Communities: By not being connected to a specific location, intellectual labor jobs allow more jobs to be available to more workers.  On the plus side, a difficult to find set of skills that could not be located through traditional searches in a local labor market, might be found globally. On the down side, assumptions about competency might be completely wrong. Someone
    contracted to do professional work (legal, construction, research, etc.) might be
    highly competent in their profession, but be unaware of local regulations or
    standards in another country or state. Likewise, if two artists collaborate on a project they can make their decisions about each other’s skills, but if they work in different countries they may be surprised about the differences in law protecting their rights and the ownership of their product.

The revolution in Work Globalization is underway! These are just the earliest steps in the revolution, but you can already see how jobs are breaking away from their traditional locations, allowing intellectual labor to be performed anywhere. In our next blog we’re going to about  the tools of the revolution: Social networks, collaboration tools and job bidding sites. But for today, that’s my Niccolls worth!

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