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Finding The Jobs of The Future

With the job market still sluggish and some professions looking a little sickly (law, journalism, university teaching, mainline Protestant clergy), more and more college grads are going to be looking for something to do — either for a while to bridge the gap until something long term comes through, or as an alternative career.

Maybe because my own career path has been so quirky — I never got a graduate degree or worked my way up any of the traditional professional ladders — I don’t think this is such a bad thing. It’s more stressful and more challenging to build a career outside the mainstream institutions, but the life that you build that way will probably be more satisfying and may well be substantially more remunerative than anything a traditional, off-the-shelf career has to offer.

From a policy point of view, I think this country needs more economic pioneers setting off to find new routes into the uncharted wilderness of the twenty-first century economy. Four trends make this an incredible time to start new businesses and rather than fighting over the remaining scraps of the old economy (growling and barking over the relative handful of good law jobs, tenure-track academic positions, print journalism jobs and so forth), young people can do a lot better on their own.

Why is this such a great time to launch out on your own?

First, the IT revolution represents a dramatic decline in the cost of capital for starting a business. A decent computer and an internet connection gives a business start up the kind of information and access that only large corporations used to be able to afford. The 24 year old setting up a college entrance advisory service for kids at the high school he or she once attended can access more and better information than college counselors at top prep schools had twenty years ago. Somebody wanting to launch a floral arrangement and delivery business can shop a whole world of exotic blossoms and greenery, arrange direct shipment with overseas suppliers, and compare the prices and terms of vendors with only a minimal investment of time. Off the shelf accounting and billing software can give you financial services of a kind that only established businesses able to hire accountants used to have. With overnight shipping you don’t have to maintain much inventory. You can get marketing information broken down by zip codes and census tracts; you can advertise on local sites that target your market at insignificant rates; social media allow you to reach potential customers directly. Whether your business involves photography, home design, travel, food preparation and delivery, fashion, financial planning, tutoring and/or educational counseling services, fitness training, child care or any one of ten thousand other activities, you can now offer a wider range of more customized and tailored services at very reasonable cost. And you don’t need nearly as much money to start up a business as you used to — and there are many businesses that a recent college grad can launch with little more equipment than that old college computer.

The second big trend: the great American time crunch. In the last generation, the two-income family has become the norm. Nobody in America has time for all the things they would like to do or that they need to do. If you can figure out ways to take necessary chores off peoples’ hands at a reasonable price, many will pay what you ask and thank you for the help.

The third big trend: the internet is now too big for most Americans to master on their own. The internet is an amazing way to get information about products or services you might want, check prices, explore options and generally make better and more informed decisions. The trouble is that for most of us — there is too much of it. There was a time when travel sites were making travel agents obsolete, but now there are so many sites and so many choices that many people would be willing to pay somebody to do that research for them. These won’t be the fat commissions that travel agents used to get, but an internet-based travel business is a lot cheaper to run. People want the information fire hose of the internet bottled into something they can conveniently use; there is room there for a lot of people to make money filtering, organizing and customizing this force.

The last big trend: both labor and goods are relatively cheap. The economic transition has thrown people out of work and huge increases in manufacturing capacity have made many basic goods extremely cheap. Both these conditions favor small business and start ups. It’s not only that you can hire better help for less money than normal; services like delivery are cheaper. If you have a good idea and you know how to package and market the goods or services you want to sell, this may be the best time since the Eisenhower administration to start your own business.

So where can you get some ideas for a new business? The best method is to look around at your friends and neighbors and think about what their needs and their problems are. Then think about what would solve some of those problems. An article in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal discussed how financial planners have identified services their clients need that they can provide to convince customers to keep using their services. Read the piece; these may or may not be the kinds of things you want to do, but they are examples of creative thinking about common life problems that a small business can solve.

The age of the big box company with lifetime employment may be ending, but a new age of small business is getting underway. This is the time to get in on the ground floor; there is a world of opportunity out there for those with eyes that can see.

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  • Jim.

    Mainline Protestants clergy in decline? They should try Missionary work instead, the market for that in this country is certainly ripe.

    They have to have something to offer, though, rather than blowing with the winds of pop culture. I suggest that what they ought to offer is the Word of God, rather than the meaningless pap they’ve been pushing for most of a generation.

  • C. Plummer

    Government, especially but not limited to Democrats, is doing its best to exterminate small business startups through excessive taxation (Obama’s repeated demands for higher taxes on the “rich”, while doing virtually nothing about the deficit, will badly damage small businessmen paying taxes as individuals), excessive bureaucracy, and excessive regulation (just one small part of the total: zoning to keep them from operating out of homes).

  • Jim.

    Apparently for the Episcopalians, things are going to get worse before they get better.

    Funeral rites for pets, “an apology to Native Americans for exposing them to Christianity” … the article doesn’t even mention the new liturgy for gay “marriage”.

    What does the Venerable Mead think of all this?

  • Luke Lea

    All true, but it doesn’t solve our problem: a good life for average Americans in our democracy. That’s the heart of it. If we fail, the American experiment is a failure.

  • Kevin

    One counterveiling factor to consider is that if you go into business yourself you will almost certainly be breaking some law or regulation (at least as it may be interpreted by some authority). If you are not willing to live with this risk, avoid starting your own business. To take just one example, when the former head of the NY Fed and current Secretary of the Treasury can’t comply with the tax code, the chance some 24 year old will be able to fill out all but the most trivial business taxes and regulations is quite low.

  • James Banks

    Most young people don’t realize how many opportunities are right before them: On the military base where I live, people who need nothing more than a car make a killing by delivering food from sit-down restaurants to soldiers on-post and are tired of ordering pizza, but, from what I can tell, that sort of service hasn’t caught on elsewhere. It’s somewhat strange, considering how many college students own cars and could benefit from work that typically required them to work only in the evenings.

  • Kris

    Luke@4: True enough, though I include the following: if the average American will need to be subsidized in order to live a good life, that also constitutes a failure of sorts of the American experiment to me. Whether this might nonetheless be the best possible solution is not yet knowable.

  • Kris

    Jim@3: “Apparently for the Episcopalians, things are going to get worse before they get better.”

    You don’t say! They have decided to “repudiate” the Doctrine of Discovery. I conclude that all non-AmerInd Episcopalians will be leaving North America.

    Bon voyage. (I’d say “Vaya con Dios”, but I’m not sure that would be deemed acceptable.)

  • Arthur S.

    So the jobs of the future are florist, photographer, cook, food delivery, fitness trainer, performing chores for others, online travel agent, etc.?

    That is weak.

    Those service jobs enhance the good life for the people receiving the services, but those jobs are not jobs of the future or engines driving economic growth into the future.

  • Matt

    Ironically, one of the largest impediments to this sort of entreprenurial spirit is the high cost of private health care insurance for the self-employed, particularly entrepreneurs who are trying to support a family.

    Yet those most inclined to support an entreprenurial vision for the country tend to be the most intractably opposed to reforming the health care system. They fail to see that health care is a huge barrier to entry for many who would like to start their own businesses. For people with some sort of preexisting condition, it has been an impossible barrier to entry to overcome.

    Even if you support the repeal of Obamacare, there should be some honest recognition that some of the reforms contained in the ACA would be a huge help to those starting new businesses.

  • Kris

    Arthur@9: “those jobs are not jobs of the future or engines driving economic growth into the future.”

    And what if given increasing productivity and specialization, a minority of the population will be the ones to drive most of the economic growth? (Meaning 1. they’ll be able to do so on their own 2. they’ll be the only ones able to do so.) The minority will see to the economic basis, and all those other “weak” jobs will help us all improve our quality of life. In principle.

  • Americant

    The only job of the future that thinking millennials should jump on now is escaping from America while they still can. Very few of the human sludge born after 1985 or so who carried Imam Zero’s water buckets in 2008 have two brain cells they can rub together for any length of time, but those few who can still think for themselves without cutesy slogans and handouts from others need only look ahead to the next five years and realize the truth: It’s over. It’s time to cut one’s losses and become a migrant worker elsewhere. There is a certain humility to this, but truth is never easy to swallow. Americant is finished. There is no job of the future here unless welfare recipient, drug cook, arsonist or gang member is considered gainful employment now. From the Zero White House, I’m sure it is.

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