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The Day of The Worker is at Hand

By Dr. Russ Ouellette, DM

Imagine a day when you're the master of your own employment destiny; a day when you'll be able to handpick your work assignments; a day when you can enjoy more job security than ever before; a day when you'll be motivated beyond your wildest expectations. It's closer than you think.

This month, the Future of Everything panel, a group of thought leaders from diverse backgrounds tasked with creating a vision of "what can be," looked at the future of work and what possibilities lay ahead for the worker of the future. Core project participants included myself, Dr. Elyse Barry - my colleague at Sojourn Partners, Tammy Hildreth and Paul Philbrick, co-founders of Network for Work and Dennis Delay, an economist with the NH Center for Public Policy Studies.

Before we get into predictions, let me frame the working contract that has substantially changed for the professional worker. We used to work for one company our entire lives, move up to management positions, maintain job loyalty and retire sitting on top of our nest egg. I recall my professors telling me I needed to stay with a firm at least 10 years so my next employer would know I was "loyal and hardworking." Today, 10 years in one firm would be quite an accomplishment.

When the entire employee-employer dynamic shifted, educated professional workers may have been asleep at the career switch. Rather than take responsibility for their own career development, they relied on their companies to fulfill the old worker contract. Rather than focus on what they wanted to learn, they did what their employers wanted, and didn't create meaningful networks of contacts and opportunities. They weren't CEO of their own careers, they didn't extend their professional brand beyond the walls of their firm and they didn't focus on what they wanted to do. Now, many smart, once upwardly mobile people find themselves out of work.

Some workers did take action, however, dropping out of the 9-5 world and starting their own entrepreneurial ventures and taking a much more active role in charting their career paths. As Elyse Barry suggested, "Independent knowledge workers represent a powerful and growing segment of the work force. No longer is this the career choice of last resort."

What we are witnessing is a revolution. Rather than holding position for a decade, the professional will take assignments in areas of interest, teach some of the time, write some of the time, volunteer in the community, follow their passions and build a personal brand and a portfolio of accomplishments.

A great example of this new philosophy comes in the story of Paul Philbrick and Tammy Hildreth. After finding themselves displaced from their management positions, they set out to explore their future and adopted the portfolio concept. Rather than simply seeking their next long-term job, they founded the Network for Work organization where they help coach over 800 displaced workers, co-host a radio show, organize the NH Women's Leadership Summit, serve on community committees and still find time to engage with us on the Future of Everything project. They have placed themselves back in charge of their own careers. Now they need to decide if they'll ever go to work in a traditional job again. They represent the future of work.

In the future we will be hired and valued for our generalist skills, our portfolio of experiences, and our reputation of quality, character and commitment to our professional evolution. Our personal brand will be documented and managed by us through new social and business technologies. Infrastructures will grow to meet these trends.

The days of punching the clock and spending decades waiting for a gold watch are quickly nearing an end. Soon we'll be faced with more choices, more opportunities and greater freedom of movement than ever before – the day of the worker is at hand and American business prospects will be brighter as a result.

Dr. Russ Ouellette is the managing partner of Sojourn Partners, a Bedford-based executive leadership coaching firm. He can be reached at (603) 472-8103 or russ@sojournpartners.com. He can also be twittered @RussOuellette or Facebooked – Sojourn Partners.

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