The Future of Work(ers)

Originally posted in Dec 2019 

My take on what the future might hold for workers

In 2013, I worked with two students’ whose journeys have stuck with me ever since: Mariah* had worked in a call center until it downsized as chatbots emerged. She came to General Assembly seeking a career change as a result. When Sean’s* job as a cashier was augmented by self-checkouts, he knew it was time to make a change, and also joined us. I didn’t know it at the time, but these students’ stories that were part of a global shift in how work was being done due to macro technological changes. Their stories and countless others would become part of the “Future of work.” **

*Not their actual names

**My partner Merci Grace, former Head of Growth at Slack, is also focused on this space given her time at Slack and Gigwalk. Her excellent perspective on job marketplaces and collaboration tools has been tremendously valuable to all of us at Lightspeed.

The Future of Work(ers): Serving the Consumer Career Journey

The phrase “the future of work” has exploded in popularity over the last few years. While it is difficult to pin down an exact definition, McKinsey & Company uses the term to refer to how “technologies like automation, robotics, and artificial intelligence are shaping how we work, where we work, and the skills we need to work.”

The term “Future of Work” featured heavily in recent global political elections and for good reason: McKinsey & Company estimates that in the next 10 years 75 to 400 million people could see their work displaced by automation. The OECD says high-skilled and low-skilled jobs are increasing while middle-skill jobs are decreasing. Other economists say middle-skill or blue-collar jobs are not vanishing but rather new ones are emerging.

For those of you building teams in this space, you may have also heard people describing these macro global forces when they discuss the future of work. I don’t often hear people discussing the impact they’ll have on an individual’s career journey. As a former consumer operator who personally worked with hundreds of career changers, I tend to focus on an individual’s career journey when framing the future of work.

The career journey begins with an individual’s career discovery efforts and goes through performing (and hopefully succeeding) at their first, second, or 15th role. For those affected by technological change, largely middle-skill or blue-collar workers, career journeys are increasingly shifting from a linear progression…

…to a career journey marked by repeated change whether an individual is reskilling into a high-skills job such as a devops engineering or transitioning into a lower-skilled job in the gig economy:

In this circular career journey, vertical career progression may be stymied while soft skills such as professionalism and problem-solving are highly transferable. This trend toward circular career journeys is not brand new — it has been shaping over the last few generations. What is new today is the extent to which automation has affected industries and eliminated roles. This makes it timely to reframe how we think about career journeys.

The term “future of work” can refer to a lot of things. From the consumer angle, I define the Future of Work as solutions that serve the individual throughout their career journey, namely: 1) Getting a job and 2) Getting the job done.

Today’s Opportunity

There’s a large opportunity for consumer businesses to leverage technology to provide solutions tailored to the needs of individuals in this new career journey. Here’s a quick highlight of some of the ways startups are responding:

For someone like Mariah* who had worked in a call center until her agency downsized as chatbots emerged, the new career journey might now look like this:

Mariah has been laid off. Before thinking about her next job, she needs to ensure she can pay the bills. As she is “Transferring” she starts working at a restaurant and also does gigs on Thumbtack or Takl. She gets advice on halting student loan payments through SoFi or LendEDU and manages her gig finances on Monett. She begins her “Discovery” phase by googling for jobs and lands on job search sites like the personalized service HireBounce. She uses LinkedIn to understand others’ paths to their current jobs. She researches her skills and interests on a career discovery platform like Skillroads. She realizes she’ll need to learn new skills so now in her “Learning” phase, she signs an ISA powered by Vemo Education so she can enroll in a reskilling program like CodeCombat, Flockjay* or White Hat*. She begins networking through online communities like the Dribbble and interviews through Sparkhire as she “Searches” for a role.

*Lightspeed Portfolio Company

The recruiters get back, and Mariah has landed a job! She’ll need to relocate so she seeks assistance from companies like Placement or Jobbatical. In her new role she is focused on “Performing” and outlines her growth plan using a tool like Sunlight and keeps track of her achievements with Merits, uses Slack to communicate with global peers and analyzes data through Thoughtspot. She reaps the benefits of working in a full-time role again and can start repaying her loans thanks to student-debt benefits through Rightfoot or Goodly. Oh, and Mariah has done all of this from her living room (minus her Takl gigs).

This example and the graphic below illustrate the number of startups responding to serve the needs of an individual’s career journey as the future of work evolves.

My observations are driven by seven years’ experience and education in the field, including a Masters of Education where I focused on this topic. As investors we pay close attention to the trends shaping the future and the founders and teams designing it. While we don’t know all the ways in which the career journey will change, we do know that it is ever-changing. I can’t wait to meet those of you designing it.

If you are interested in career journeys or the future of work space, please get in touch at mbent@lsvp.com

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