Futurist: Say goodbye to a 'job,' say hello to freelance

September 6, 2014
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photo - Thomas Frey in an image from his website, futuristspeaker.com.
Thomas Frey in an image from his website, futuristspeaker.com. 

If you ask Thomas Frey, the future is in freelancing.

Frey, a futurist with the DaVinci Institute think tank in Louisville, said Friday that 2 billion jobs will disappear worldwide by 2020, mostly as a result of changes in technology that automate tasks now performed by people.

Laid-off workers likely will end up doing more freelance work, where they will line up and complete individual projects rather than work full time for a company or organization, said Frey, who spoke at the first "State of the Workforce" event, hosted by the Pikes Peak Workforce Center at Library 21c and attended by nearly 200 business and community leaders.

"Today, the typical 30-year-old has had 11 different jobs," Frey said. "Ten years from now, a typical 30-year-old will have worked on 300 different projects. We are moving to a more project-based economy. The rules are different in that economy, and it's not for everybody."

With a shift to a more freelance economy, communities should focus less on attracting companies to provide jobs and more on attracting high-level executives who can bring a budget and staff with them to wherever they decide to locate, Frey said in an interview after his speech.

"Jobs don't have to be local; people can work anywhere," Frey said. "At Oracle, for example, 80 percent of its workforce works from home."

Technology is driving the change, said Frey, the founder, executive director and senior futurist for the institute.

"It is the problem of the level," he said. "The level as an instrument has been replaced by app. Every time an app is downloaded, it eliminates a little piece of a job. Downloading billions of apps eliminates jobs."

Jobs of the future likely will be in industries few can envision today, Frey said. He cited examples of an "Amazon" trash can that scans the bar code of the container a consumer is throwing away and automatically orders more of it; of a pill container that flashes, chirps and even sends text messages until the patient takes the medication; of an umbrella that flashes when its owner needs to have it on hand.

Frey predicted that technology, particularly devices that can be worn on the user's body, will replace jobs in the media, medicine and other industries as the tasks now done by reporters, doctors and others are automated.

Even if those who are replaced by technology do find freelance work, there's a catch: freelance workers aren't employees and typically don't receive benefits.

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Contact Wayne Heilman: 636-0234

Twitter @wayneheilman

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