Every once in a while, we like to take a step back and assess the state of the job market, as well as the state of how people feel about it. It’s clear that the world of work is changing. The workforce is becoming nimbler, and it’s less common than ever for someone to stay at one job, or one company, for your whole career. From multinational consulting companies to us at Argentus, everyone seems to be talking about the rise of the” gig economy” – the contingent workforce that moves from contract to contract, trading long-term job security for higher wages and flexibility.
When we write about the benefits of this kind of contingent work in our area of Supply Chain and Procurement, we sometimes get pushback from commenters. They say that contingent work – or “precarious employment” – is taking the place of what used to be permanent, secure jobs, leading to less stable employment and worse career outcomes across the board. We find jobs for quite a few high-skilled workers who actually prefer contingent work, so we know that lots of people find contingent work to be a vital alternative to long-term employment. But we also recently read a really interesting and thought provoking New Yorker piece proposing that increased “job instability” is actually more of a myth than we might realize.
Titled “The Fallacy of Job Insecurity,” the New Yorker piece explores the issue of job security, and the common fear that careers are less stable than they used to be. Mark Gemein, the piece’s author, points out how everyone – from politicians to media figures – bemoans the loss of long-term jobs with one company. There’s the nostalgia-laden image of a young worker, just out of university (or high school) joining one company, working their way up through the ranks across a 30+ year career, and retiring happy and wealthy, all because of the stability of permanent employment. Gemein then throws cold water on that image, pointing out how it’s always been far from the norm, and how statistics actually show job stability increasing by quite a few measures:
- The typical worker has stayed at the same job six months longer than they did a decade ago.
- The typical worker has, on average, stayed at the same job for four and a half years, compared to three and a half years in 1983 – a time when, in our imagination, “long-term permanent employment” was the reality.
- The average length of time spent in a job has gone up significantly for women in particular.
Gemein goes on to make another interesting point, which is that when the economy is strongest, people change jobs more often, not less. To us, this tracks with how the economic recovery of the past several years has gone alongside the continuing rise of contingent workers in Supply Chain and Procurement. Many workers are looking to boost their long-term career prospects by working in a variety of industries and subdisciplines – through contracts – as opposed to long term roles where they stand the risk of ending up stuck in one position and set of responsibilities instead of advancing.
As always, we raise these points to start conversations, rather than to attempt to speak for everyone’s experience. We understand that it’s difficult for some people to secure long-term employment, and we understand that not everyone in contingent work wants to be working on contingent. But we hope this post offers some food for thought about “instability” in the job market on a big-picture level.
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