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Employed for Life Chapter One Excerpt – Societal Forces

Employed for Life

Chapter One Excerpt – Societal Forces

By Wilen,Vien,Daugenti

How Technology, Globalization, Longevity, and Demographics Will Impact Your Career

Four forces have converged that have changed the workplace forever: the astonishing ascendency of communications technology, particularly the Internet; globalization, which has increased competition but also opportunity for both companies and individual workers; demographic shifts, including increased ethnic diversity, the growing presence of women in the workplace, and a rise in the number of nontraditional families; and extended longevity, which has reshaped the concept of retirement and made it possible to have more than one full-scale career in a lifetime. In this chapter, we look at each of these forces in depth, illustrating how they’ve changed the workplace and what new skills and characteristics you’ll need to acquire as a result.


If you’ve ever used your Smartphone in a store to check if the price of an item was cheaper online, you’ve participated in the practice known as Showrooming. You’re not alone: Some 70% of customers say they’ve researched merchandise on the Internet while shopping offline. Showrooming has proven a blow to brick- and-mortar retailers, who spend vast amounts of money stocking and displaying items only to lose sales to Amazon. The practice has been considered a factor in the demise of such companies as Circuit City, Borders, CompUSA, and Tweeter. Savvy retailers, however, have adapted to Showrooming by changing their business practices. Nordstrom, Target, and Best Buy, for example, compete with online retailers by using such tactics as price matching online competitors, offering superior customer service, improving the shopping experience, implementing reward programs that encourage customers to buy in-store, and introducing mobile payments. In fashion, workers need to learn to adjust to new technologies, or risk being left unemployable. Technology has made the employment landscape volatile, as innovations have the potential to disrupt or even eliminate entire industries. (We’ll discuss a few of these game-changing innovations in Chapter 3.) Consider, as a cautionary tale, the freestanding GPS device. Just a few short years ago, these gadgets were considered state-of-the-art. Now, sophisticated navigation apps may render them obsolete.

Technology advances with breathtaking speed. To reach 50 million households, it took radio 38 years, television 13 years, the Internet four years, and Facebook just two years. In 2005, just 8% of Americans used social networks; in 2011, 65% did. 6 eBay was only launched in 1995, Google in 1998, Facebook in 2004, Twitter in 2006, and Instagram in 2010, and yet it’s hard to imagine life without them.

Thus, to stay employable today, you must not expect that your company and industry will remain static for long. Think of the household-name companies that have gone out of business in recent years because they were unable to adapt to the changes technology brought about. Blockbuster could not compete with Netflix, Borders with Amazon, or Tower Records with iTunes. Kodak invented digital photography but could not capitalize on it. Even that venerable institution, the newspaper, is losing ground to the Internet. Two hundred and twenty newspapers closed between 1990 and 2009, the most recent year for which figures are available, largely because of competition from online news. Some futurists predict that the last print newspaper will go out of business by 2040. At the same time, the Internet has also created jobs, companies, and entire new industries. The number of jobs in the Internet sector grew 634% over the past decade, more than 200 times the rate of the economy as a whole. US software jobs have grown 562% over the past two decades, while cloud computing services will generate nearly 14 million jobs worldwide by 2015. Facebook, founded in 2004, employs 4,900 people; eBay, founded in 1995, employs over 20,000; and Google, founded in 1998, over 53,000. The Internet has also driven massive economic growth. McKinsey estimates that the Internet was responsible for 21% of the GPD growth in mature economies between 2006 and 2011.

Even as new technologies have reduced the need for such employees as bank tellers, travel agents, and tax preparers, they have created new job categories. Jobs like social media strategist, user experience designer, online community manager, search engine optimization specialist, and app designer, for example, didn’t exist 10 years ago. An estimated 53,000 people are now employed making applications for Facebook alone. In such a fluid environment, you’ll need to continually keep abreast of changes in your company and sector, staying informed about innovations and upstart competitors with the potential to destabilize your field. Neither you nor your firm can afford to be complacent. You should be prepared to evaluate and upgrade your skills on an ongoing basis. You’ll also be considered a more valuable employee if you cultivate your problem-solving skills, think quickly on your feet, and offer creative solutions to the challenges your company faces.

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Dr. Tracey Wilen is a prominent thought leader on the impact of technology on society, work and careers. She’s been a scholar at Stanford University and has held leadership positions at Apple, HP, Cisco, and the Apollo Group. Dr. Wilen has authored 11 books. Her new book Employed for Life , 21st Century career trends was just released.

She has appeared on CNN, Fox and CBS news, in The Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, Forbes, Los Angeles Times, and USA Today. She frequently contributes to The Huffington Post, the Examiner, and the Christian Science Monitor and is on radio shows across the US weekly as an expert guest. She is a global speaker on the impact of technology on work, careers, and women’s leadership. She was honored by the San Francisco Business Times as a 2012 Most Influential Woman in Bay Area Business., @traceywilen

Dr. Wilen is on a corporate speaking tour on the topic of 21st Century Careers and can be reached, @traceywilen or FB Dr.TraceyWilen

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