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Professional skills: for rent or for sale?

Updated: Jun 11, 2020

In the current gig economy, financial control is in a state of popular transition between the power of the job and labor markets. Global and virtual marketplaces are expanding to initiate and meet consumer demands. Labor market skills are and have been traditionally bought by organizations, giving rise to important career qualities of tenure, commitment and growth. The gig economy may be shifting the power of this transaction. Are you renting out your skills/time or selling them?

‘…47% of total US employment is in the high risk category, meaning that associated occupations are potentially automatable over some unspecified number of years, perhaps a decade or two (Frey and Osborne, 2017, p. 265).’

With metaphorical use of the real estate business, if you rent out your skills, you have the potential to take on more projects, while still having ownership of your interests, skill development and time. This requires certifications, branding and investing in your own career skills and interests with the viable option to pivot. If you sell your skills, you have the potential to be invested in by a company offering a variety of benefits including career development programs, training and exposure, however the ownership lies within the organization and therefore is primarily directed by the organization. Pivoting your career may then seem like a larger risk when your skills/time are sold rather than rented.

‘The best known strategy to recover market power is to rent the good instead of selling it (Rayna, 2008, p. 23).’

The industrial age was typified for the notion of deskilling; breaking down a skill into small parts to be executed by multiple people. However, the knowledge economy is heralding values of re-skilling and up-skilling. We have shifted away from permanent models of the industrial age, giving rise to increased consumer values of digital and experiential goods/services that are defined by:

  • The value is assessed after consumption.

  • They are non-exclusive and non-competing; accessible by anyone and the consumption activity does not decrease availability of the goods.

  • The durability is infinite; can be easily shared and passed down generation after generation.

  • New versions (updates/renewals) of the same good are the strategic way to maintain market power.

If we assess some of the defining features of digital and experiential goods, there are striking correlations on how to value skills that are of virtual nature with limited risks of computerization. While future proofing your career, which mind set are you taking with you on your career journey?

For further information:

Frey, C.B. and Osborne, M.A. (2017) 'The future of employment: How susceptible are jobs to computerisation?', Technological Forecasting & Social Change, 114, pp. 254-280.

Rayna, T. (2008) 'Understanding the Challenges of the Digital Economy: The Nature of Digital Goods', Communications & Strategies, 1(71), pp. 13-36.

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