Do you have any idea how much the world of work has changed over the last few generations? It really is a bit mind-boggling when you think about it. It really wasn’t until around the Second World War where the idea of a career started to take hold. Before then, yet well into the first third of the 20th Century, there were basically only three types of jobs:
- You were a laborer, worked with your hands, built and fixed things, manufactured and delivered goods, grew food, raised animals, etc.
- You sold the goods that were made and grown by your neighbors, worked in stores, banks, all kinds of retail and wholesale transactions.
- You studied and learned to be a “professional,” i.e. doctor, lawyer, educator.
Certainly, there were also other profitable endeavors folks chose to occupy their lives with, but the vast majority of occupations fell into those three categories. And roughly 90% of all those jobs were held by men. However, when the men went off to war, the women stepped in to fill the jobs that had been held by men, whether it was manufacturing or banking. Proving their effectiveness in the workplace during the crises of war, the employment landscape was now open for women to pursue jobs like never before.
By the middle of the 20th Century and the migration of families to the suburbs from the urban centers, people were faced with the question of commuting or establishing their work lives within their communities. Those who chose to build their work lives in the suburbs closer to their new homes were part of the great work expansion; the realization that not everything had to happen in the big cities. And with that realization came a lot of new jobs; not just new openings, but positions in new fields that hadn’t existed before.
The strength of U.S. economy post WWII allowed for a wide variety of technological advancements. By the mid 50’s/early 60’s that progress helped kick off the nascent space program, creating new jobs in new industries, requiring new levels of skill and knowledge. Programs at universities across the nation rose to meet the need for knowledge and training for many of these new industries.
It was also the very beginning of the “computer age,” as the space program wasn’t the only industry that recognized the benefits of faster computational analysis over what people took hours or days to accomplish. Publishing and broadcasting also benefitted from the computer era, as the development and rapid proliferation of transistors and microchips enabled the printed word to be reproduced and distributed faster and more accurately, and the equipment that produced radio and tv signals got smaller and more functionally diverse and TV’s more affordable The sound and visuals of the news and events from one part of the world could now be transmitted and received almost instantaneously around the globe.
Around this same time, people realized that they could pursue a professional career, not just look for a job. There were so many more options for work that fewer people were “forced” into the only jobs that had been traditionally available to them. Specialized trade jobs like electricians and technicians were now needed everywhere. New work options included positions like switchboard operator, broadcast engineers, voice actors, medical specialists like phlebotomist and pulmonologist. Some of these new positions required specialized training and education, and others necessitated on-the-job instruction.
Labor jobs evolved too, particularly as the nation’s highways system expanded. Folks who were comfortable working with cement, concrete and asphalt could find lots of work, as could those who could drive delivery vehicles, buses and taxis. There was also plenty of work for train operators, engineers and conductors, along with airline mechanics and aeronautical engineering jobs.
While these new roadways made it easier to move people and goods longer distances more conveniently, what about the people who supported themselves manufacturing products for the old way of doing things? When the horse-drawn carriages were replaced with vehicles using internal combustion engines, the folks who made buggy whips and buckboards found their work diminishing rapidly as more and more metal horse-less carriages took to the roads.
Through all these evolutionary changes, workers had to realize that if they wanted to work, they needed to gain the (new) skills needed for success in the job market. Those who wisely chose to update their talents found work faster and more easily than those who didn’t. Those who refused to change with the times were left behind. Work eluded them and they found life quite difficult without an income.
An example of this could be found in the television and video production industries of the 70’s and early 80’s as it moved from recording on magnetic tape to digital formats that allowed faster and less destructive editing. Those who had learned their editing craft using razor blades, who didn’t learn how to use digital editing equipment found themselves out of work, as the industry adapted to the new technologies fairly rapidly leaving behind those who refused to update their skills.
Time stands still for no one! This reality must be considered by anyone entering the job market, particularly those doing so for the first time. Ask yourself: Do you have better than adequate skills that enable you to excel in the current job market and will allow you to evolve with the changes you might face down the road? Are you future-proofing your career? There are literally thousands of jobs that didn’t exist 50 years ago, and many of the jobs of the future will be quite different from what are available today. So, how will your career evolve over time?
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