The Decline of the 20th Century Job


In trend-setting California, according to a study by the University of San Francisco, less than 30 percent of the workforce, have traditional jobs. This is where we’re all headed. We keep waiting for the Great Recession to be over and lots of jobs to come back. It’s not going to happen. For a growing number of workers, the era of the traditional job, and all the stability that came with it, is over. The millions in the categories of “long-term unemployed” and “underemployed” in the U.S. and elsewhere are proof of this.

Our ancestors must be having a good laugh as they watch us struggle to wean ourselves off the traditional, twentieth century job. If you look at your family tree, you’re likely to see that you’re descended from self-employed people who earned their living as contractors, trades people, crafts people, and small-business owners.

When the concept of full-time employment working for someone else became widespread with industrialization, many of them thought it was a crazy idea, an unpleasant, unnatural, and an inhuman way to work. It’s the ultimate irony. The job, that thing that our ancestors saw as abhorrent, is the thing we’ve become addicted to.

The kids of today’s graduates may well ask them “Mum, Dad, tell me about this job thing again. You mean someone else decided when you started and finished work, when you could go on vacation, how far you could go in your career and how much money you could make? What were you people smoking back then?”

The countries that will succeed in the 21st Century are the ones that can tap into and nurture the entrepreneurial spirit within their workforce and that support and encourage the creation of small businesses. The ones that will fail are the ones that continue to depend on the traditional job.

Professor Mohammad Yunus was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for establishing the Grameen Bank, which has helped millions of people in over 40 countries to become self-sufficient by giving them access to small loans. Last year, in an initiative to create more entrepreneurs by getting school kids to compete among themselves, a group of 11-year-old girls in Scotland made 4,000 Pounds from a one-Pound loan in just four weeks. A Scotsman newspaper report describing the project said, “the kids loved it.”

The challenge in this century is to give more kids the chance to participate in these types of projects and to help unemployed people to become more enterprising and entrepreneurial in their attitude towards earning a living.

So let’s stop lamenting the decline of the traditional job and focus instead on giving our graduates and unemployed people the skills they need to succeed in today’s workplace.


Ron McGowan is the author of the international bestseller “How to Find WORK in the 21st Century”, currently in use at over 400  colleges and universities worldwide.

The 2012 edition has just been released.