President Obama struck an optimistic theme in his State if the Union Address and there is good reason for that: the stock market is up, GDP is rising, and employers are slowly beginning to hire.
Yet while these are positive signs, the President also noted that we are in the midst of a changing world and economy. Unlike anything we have ever seen, the world of work and the methods by which workers will find jobs have changed. Never again will Americans see “cradle to grave” jobs. Those days are long gone. In this new post recession economy, individuals will have careers filled with many different jobs in many different companies. “The rules have changed” according to Obama. He is right and workers must understand and accept this.
During the recession, companies focused on their core business shedding ancillary work and jobs. Much of it was outsourced. While the economy may now be improving, there is still little hope that these lost jobs will ever return.
The new workplace will be filled with contingent labor, made up of temporary workers and independent contractors. Like construction or the movie making industry, employers will hire skilled workers for particular projects and when it is completed, the jobs will go away and those workers will be forced to find new employment elsewhere.
The President pointed out how many individuals will start their own small companies, no longer waiting for a call back to former jobs. Others will work for companies for short periods of time, moving on when no longer needed.
What this means is that workers will no longer be able to depend upon a company. They will be forced to take responsibility for their own careers. Maintaining their skills, obtaining benefits, and marketing themselves to prospective employers will be their job. Workers will have to become self-reliant.
Government needs to help. Workers must be able to purchase health insurance in the open market—something few can afford under the current construct. In fact, all forms of insurance and retirement plans must become available and portable to individuals, at an affordable rate. An alternative to employer provided benefits must be developed. Government, insurance companies and business will need to partner to make this work.
Finally, as President Obama stated, burdensome government regulations that do not reflect our new economy must be eliminated. As an example, if there is a greater need for independent contractors, then government regulations around worker classifications must be addressed. Other regulations must be considered too.
The President is right. Our future is bright. But, at the same time we must also recognize that the process of change will be difficult and in some cases painful. Business, workers and government will have to work together to make it happen. This was the President’s real message.