The Jobs of the Future Are the Ones We Create

Let’s face it: the economy is really challenging right now. To review: We have a teetering economic system that’s been reeling from a severe housing crisis (caused by a combination of greedy investment bankers and gullible homeowners); we have an unemployment rate that seems to be permanently floating just above 9%; we have companies shipping jobs overseas by the truckload (especially to China)–and that’s across just about every single manufacturing sector.

This past weekend, my company sponsored Betascape, a conference focused on the intersection of art & technology. One of the speakers was my good friend, Jan Baum, who has been working her tucas off to launch Towson University’s new digital fabrication lab. Jan’s talk focused on how digital technology is allowing artists and designers to rapidly prototype and produce new works that were entirely impossible before. She talked about a lot of things, but one thing that stuck with me was that these technologies are enabling new business models.

And that sparked an even more interesting discussion with my friend, Gayle Carney, founder and executive director of the Center for Technology Services, about how underserved communities are not introduced to technologies such as Jan’s digital fabrication lab. In fact, it’s often not an issue of lack of access, but rather the issue is that no one talks to them about the possibilities that technology can hold–as a producer.

One of the strongest narratives in American culture has become that we are a society of consumers. Today, that is a narrative that needs to be reversed. The US was founded with a DIY attitude that says build it if it doesn’t exist. That says we can work to solve our problems through innovation–not consumption.

With the economy in the shape its in, we have to realize that economic structures that created and fostered a strong middle-class (which is needed for strong consumption) no longer exists–at least not in the sense we are used to. We have to realize that the jobs of the future are jobs we create ourselves. In other words, in a world where job opportunities are shrinking rapidly–we need to create them ourselves. More importantly, we need to work with the working poor and teach them how to be entrepreneurial, how to create their own jobs, and how to carve their own future. It’s not going to be achieved by working hard. It may not even be achieved by going to school (especially because our education system is in such disrepair). It’s going to be achieved by putting the tools such as a digital fabrication lab into their hands. We have no choice, unless creating a class of citizens who are permanently unemployed is an option. Which it shouldn’t be.


  1. Kate Bladow

    Daniel – I think that this is a great perspective, but we also need to remember that to create their own business and be entrepreneurial, there need to be more supports in place that allow them to do that, too. I imagine that it’s harder living paycheck to paycheck and trying to set up a business, since you aren’t able to put even a little bit of money away to prepare for when you take the leap. – K

  2. Scott Paley (@spaley)

    I agree with Kate – great perspective and I enjoyed this post. I intend to share it.

    I agree that the best thing people can do for themselves is to create something.

    The only nitpick, for me, is your minor dismissal of education. To the contrary, there is almost nothing that correlates to higher employment and bigger salaries than education level.

    1. Daniel

      That’s fair. I think the point is that our education system, as it exists today, is designed to create consumers and not producers. And if we can’t change the way education is delivered to create people who produce things–be they physical or virtual–then we need to look at alternative avenues to bypass a broken system.

  3. Justin Kownacki

    Our current education system is a cross between 18 years of subsidized babysitting and a farm system for the consumer class. Many of my friends in other professions now feel compelled to get a Master’s Degree just to be competitive, because so many people have Bachelor’s Degrees now, it’s created a glut of overpriced, unmarketable talent in industries that no longer need it.

    How ironic that we now need to teach our own underclass (which is 99% of us) the same lessons we’re teaching “third world” nations — how to form proactive communities, how to become entrepreneurs, etc. We’re a first world nation that’s stunningly ill-equipped to deal with the first world problems we created for ourselves.

    1. Daniel

      We are the richest 3rd world country in the world.

    2. Jan Baum

      Agree, Justin. and there is a long history of this. I am sad to say that America will only wake up when we are bleeding; we are arrogant and self-confident in our ignorance. What happened to the greatness that was/that made America? I’d like to form a coalition of thinkers and ‘act-ers’. Great article front page of NYx yesterday on people around the world protesting traditional, conventional government structures *that are not working* and I suspect mostly young people are saying “there is nothing in this for me, you guys suck, I’m not going along”. oh, wait, isn’t that what spawned America? Let’s talk.

  4. Scott Paley (@spaley)

    That’s probably true for primary and secondary education. It certainly wasn’t my college experience though.

    1. Daniel

      Scott, I think it depends on what you study in college and who your professors are. I studied English, and there was very little taught in terms of entrepreneurship or career. We were consumers of texts, and that’s what we were taught to do. Now, I also studied writing, and only one writing professor on the last day of my senior year talked about what to do as a writer.

      Grad school was very different, as I was not only surrounded by people who were doing cool things, but the professors pushed us–and gave us the leeway–to do cool things within the scope of their class.

    2. Jan Baum

      I’m a college professor who gives a damn, and I have for 17 years. Conversation with my students this semester: it seems as though you are not reading the project sheets [confirmation], you aren’t following the steps outlined [confirmation] or the dates assigned for each step of the project [confirmed]. And I should not be structuring the projects so tightly for them in the first place. They all have a high school education and are native english speakers… motivation but they confirmed they expect an A. Education in this country is in a DEEP, complex hole that even motivated, entrepreneurial, informed professors can overcome….so what do motivated, entrepreneurial, informed professors do? continue to babysit? I think not because they are *motivated, entrepreneurial, and want to be informed*. Wake up America.

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