Though much has been written on the free agent transition in our nation, I am not sure many of us appreciate the degree to which the shift has taken place. Whitney Johnson notes that some 43 million persons today do some level of independent work. But that number is projected to reach as high as 70 million within the decade.
That number is staggering. The old model of a lifetime company providing pay, pension, and benefits to the grave is all but obsolete. Young adults today will move from company to company without a second thought. And those companies will no longer retain employees out of a sense of loyalty and obligation. It is truly a free agent nation from the perspective of both the employer and the employee.
So how does a worker prepare himself or herself for this new reality? Allow me to share five suggestions I give those who have approached me with similar questions.
- Approach your current employment as if you are a free agent. Think like an independent even if you are on the company payroll. Realize that everyday you work you are selling yourself and your value to the company. You have no guarantee of employment tomorrow unless you clearly demonstrate your value. Don’t do merely what you are asked to do. Take the initiative to go above and beyond.
- Update your skill set. Learn what companies are seeking in workers. Find out where you can update your current skills to be a more relevant worker for the future. Do not look at additional education and training as expenses, but as investments in your future. Just make certain you are investing in the right and most relevant areas.
- If your employer allows, develop independent work on the side. While caution and wisdom are necessary here, many employers welcome their employees taking the initiative to do independent work on the side. Just be careful your side work in no way interferes with your primary work. I’ve known many employees who developed independent work that later became their new livelihood or retirement vocation.
- Read voraciously. Learn continuously. Stretch yourself to read in areas where you have not delved before. Listen to wise and informative speakers. Ask what you need to know for your future and begin to read about that potential future. The multiple e-readers on the market are a gift for those of us who select our books and periodicals for disciplined reading.
- Improve your written and spoken communication skills. Someone recently told me he had listened to an hour-long presentation by a great leader. I asked the person what he learned. He responded, “Nothing, I hardly understood a word he said. He seemed to speak a foreign language.” I assured him that the speaker was not a great leader if he could not be understood. The successful free agents of the future will spend considerable time improving their written and verbal skills. Communication, plain and simple, is vitally important for a leader.
According to Johnson, 40% of Millennials desire to be free agents some day. But 58% of Boomers and 68% of Gen Xers have that same desire. It is indeed a massive sociological trend. Wherever you work, whatever you do, take note. The free agent nation has arrived. Are you prepared for this new reality?
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