Soft Landings in a Hard Economy


Last week something emerged from my past. Don’t worry. You are not about to receive TMI. But it was meaningful for me.

It was a go-to personal resource book that helped me as I moved from my first to second job out of graduate school. The book has since assisted generations of job hunters and career changers.

What Color is Your Parachute? written by Richard Bolles, has been updated 40 times, has sold 10 million copies, and has been translated into 20 languages. The book and its 87 year old author were recently featured in a Workstation column written by Phyllis Korkki in the New York Times.

What the article reminded me of is how technology has both expanded and closed job opportunities for much of the United States workforce. Korkki points out that “many aspects of the most recent edition would sorely perplex” early readers. “’What is this Google he speaks of?’ they would ask, after reading Mr. Bolles’s admonition that ‘Google is your new resume.’”

Bolles_parachuteBolles refers to LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter in the 2015 edition as well as other social media-web platforms such as Jobs With Friends and Checkster as assisting-job-search sites. Bolles believes that jobs are still available but the ways to find them have changed. And Korkki’s bottom line is that the book is still “pertinent” and “relevant” and the main concepts “still hold” true.

I was relieved that a proven resource, like a long-time friend, exists for helping people make career changes while controlling the emotional and psychological turmoil of finding and interviewing for new employment.  Because we sure need it!

A survey of Harvard Business School alumni completed by Harvard Business School professors Michael E. Porter and Jan W. Rivkin was just released. The survey titled An Economy Doing Half Its Job reported that large and midsize firms in the United States are competing well globally but are not lifting the living standards of average Americans. Particularly troubling is that 40 percent of the survey respondents indicated that they foresee lower pay and benefits for workers. Many of them also expressed a desire to outsource work or hire part-time workers over full-time workers. Nearly half indicated that they would rather invest in new technology than hire or retain workers.

As if this weren’t sobering enough, Natasha Singer’s recent article in the NYT alternated between the glass is half full/half empty view of work, too.  Headlined Check App. Accept Job. Repeat,  Singer explored how various marketplace apps connect people seeking services with independent providers of services.   So far, so good. We have used Craig’s List at WLS, for example, in the past to find website assistance. We have also studied and for their logo design potential. But Singer’s exploration of transactional one-off labor brokers introduces a whole new level of patch-worked employment with tiny pay-offs.

text_box_brokersWhile these brokerages may work well for college students seeking sideline income or for those transitioning into retirement (earning the company minimum at Favor for twenty hours of work yields $179), most people cannot sustain their lives on $9 an hour. Further, “in a climate of continuing high unemployment,” people piecing together income by working for several job exchange services end up “working seven-day weeks, trying to assemble a living wage from one-off gigs …They are less microentrepreneurs than microearners.”

Finding jobs, finding workers online

Finding jobs, finding workers to do your work

Consumers love the service options because they are cheaper than regular businesses and venture capital firms are pouring millions of dollars into Uber, Lyft, and TaskRabbit among other labor brokerages. Labor economists believe that because people cannot find full-time employment, they are drawn into ad hoc, transactional gigs which can work for the short-term but no one knows “what will happen next week.” Dean Baker, an economist who co-directs the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC asserts that “you are getting people to self-exploit in ways we have regulations in place to prevent.”

Where does that leave us? We are concerned at the WLS because we value women’s ability to live full lives doing what they love to do and enjoying economic security, safe working conditions, and the prospect for growth and career development throughout their lives. But even the most secure, long-term employees can be riffed these days. Short of a structural realignment of our hard-edged economy, we have to take charge of what we can control and grow our connections, knowledge, and skills.

Our parting thought on achieving soft landings:  never rest on what you have done, keep developing new skills, knowledge, and connections, and learn to use social communications and collaboration technologies that benefit you and the interests you value. And good luck.


Photo credit for parachutes to tpsdave at Pixabay

Photo credit for labyrinth with logos from online marketplace apps to OpenClips at Pixabay

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