The 21st Century Job

“Sorry, Mr. Thompson, but we won’t be taking you forward to the next stage of the interview…” said the sharply dressed woman who had been conducting the morning’s aptitude tests.

“Ok. Thanks for letting me know.” I replied, my heart not quite sinking to the depths it had often sunk to last year, when I had first begun searching for a career after finishing my education. Those early rejections were pretty heavy, but after 11 months of being rebuffed by sharply dressed men and women, I’d sort of gotten used to them.

I picked up my blazer and turned to leave. As I did, I asked the woman what I had asked almost every interviewer previously.

“Oh, before I go… you couldn’t tell me what it was that let me down, could you?”

Her reply contained no surprises: “Of course. I’m sorry to say that you failed the maths aptitude test. Oh, and there were some grammatical problems with your written communication test too.”

Those had been the basis of many of my rejections to date. Still, I knew I had more to give than maths and grammar. I’m a creative person, I thought to myself. There is a job out there for me. It just hasn’t been invented yet.

My job hadn’t been invented yet. I knew it was true because my teachers at school had told me this. I first saw it in a video clip in assembly, but it was repeated throughout my school years by my teachers: we are preparing you for jobs that have not yet been created.

These words lifted me a little and they echoed through my head as I left the building through the revolving door, and made my way to the station.

As soon as I’d found a seat on the train, I flicked through the paper to the classifieds. There were a few vacancies worth applying for, but it seemed to be page after page of the same types of jobs. Notably, they were all jobs that had yet been created. In fact, they were pretty much all the types of jobs that had been around for years in some form or another. Where were all the jobs that hadn’t yet been created? All I was looking for was something new, something different, something that would leap off the page and say to me: This is the job for you!

I got off the train at my usual stop and took my usual walk of dejection back towards home. As always, I stopped off under the awnings of a row of local shops to light a cigarette before the final stretch. It was then that I saw it: in sleek black font on a white A4 sized notice in the window of one of the shops, the words:

Looking for a job that has not yet been created?

This is the job for you!

I looked around me for confirmation that this was a joke – a very elaborate joke, targeted very specifically at me. Was someone filming me? Had my friends set this up? But as I stared at the words, I realised that these are things I’d never expressed to anyone before. If I was honest, I was a little embarrassed that I’d failed so far in getting a job, so I always brushed off any questions from my friends on the topic. It wasn’t something we spoke about. So if nobody knew that these were the exact words that I constantly thought about, was somebody reading my thoughts? Ridiculous! Of course not! This is it, I thought. This is fate. I tapped the phone number at the bottom of the notice into my phone, already excited at the prospect of the phone call I was going to make in the morning.

“Ah, Mr. Thompson. I’m pleased to say that we’d like to offer you the job…” said the sharply dressed man, extending his hand towards me.

“Really? I mean… thank you!” I faltered as I shook his hand. “This is so… I’m so… thank you! I didn’t realise that the interview was complete. I mean, I thought there would be some… er, aptitude tests too?”

“Ah, no. We’ve learned everything we need to know about you. I can only assume from your enthusiastic handshake that you’d like to accept the position?”

“Yes! I mean, of course… yes, I’d be delighted to accept the position.” I knew I was meant for great things. I knew my creativity would be seen as a perfect fit by an employer who was looking for something special. I knew that I’d find a job that I could excel at. This job. This job was the one for me… whatever it was. Wait, what was the job? At that moment I realised that I had no idea what I was agreeing to. I didn’t know what it was that I’d just accepted. “Erm, I hope you don’t mind me asking, but what is the position exactly. I mean, what is the job?”

“The job? It hasn’t been created yet. As we said in the advert. But when it is created, we know that you will be absolutely perfect for it.”

“Oh… right. It hasn’t been…? So, er, what would I be doing then?”

“Nothing. Yet. Of course, when it is created you will have plenty to do.”

“Nothing? What do you mean? Do you mean I’ll get a salary for doing nothing? I don’t think I understand.”

“Haha! A salary for doing nothing! Very good! I don’t think we’d stay in business very long if we paid people for doing nothing, Mr. Thompson. Do you?”

“No, of course… I mean… what will you be paying me for then?”

“Oh, I thought I made that clear? We won’t be paying you, Mr. Thompson. At least, not until your job has been created.”

“So I don’t really have a job then? I mean, you won’t be paying me until the job exists, until you create the job? When will that be, if you don’t mind me asking you?”

“Well, we’ve been in business for nearly ten years and we’ve been hiring people for jobs that haven’t been created yet all that time. We hope to have a job created for our first employee in the next five years. That’s our aim.”

“What? You mean I won’t actually be working or getting paid for five years?”

“Oh, I think it will be longer than that, Mr. Thompson. We have over 250 employees. We hope our first employee’s job will be created in five years. Your job could be created in fifteen years. Perhaps even twenty.”

“Twenty years! I can’t afford to wait that long. I need to work now. I need to be earning money.”

“Yes, I understand that. I’m just… I’m just not sure that your particular skill set is suited to the jobs that you might get today. Your numeracy is lacking. Your literacy needs a lot of work. And the whole ‘creative’ thing is, well, a bit nebulous. Oh, I should also add that your world knowledge leaves a lot to be desired. And as for your basic comprehension… well, the less said about that, the better, eh? That’s not to say that, one day, there might be a job created where only the fuzzy quality of creativity will be really useful. And when it is created, it’s yours. But as it stands, in the world that we live in, there aren’t really a lot of careers that you’ll have access to, I’m afraid. And that’s where we come in. We’ve speculated on you and on future jobs and we believe that there is a strong likelihood that your specific – albeit rather limited – skill set will be matched with a job requiring that skill set in years to come. I suppose in the mean time… have you thought about going back into education and actually training for a current job?”

With those words ringing in my ears, I made my way out of the building and sauntered to the station.

Should I go back into education and train for a job that does exist? What if the jobs that haven’t been created are just around the corner? I put my ticket in the barrier, made my way to the platform, sat down on a bench and waited for my train to arrive, all the while these thoughts spinning through my mind.

I waited and I thought. I thought and I waited. And before I knew it, I was alone on the platform. Where was my train? I looked at my watch. I’d been waiting for hours.

On the other side of the tracks, a lone station employee swept the platform.

“Hello!” I called. The man looked up at me. “I wonder if you can help me?” I continued. “I’ve bought a ticket for a train and it hasn’t come. In fact, none of the trains that were scheduled to go to my destination have come. Do you know what’s happening?”

He cupped his hand around his mouth and called back at me. “Certainly, sir. I think you may have bought one of our Creative Saver Tickets? Is that right?”

I looked down at my ticket. “Yes. That’s right. It was the only ticket available for the service I wanted to use. What does this mean? Is this why my train hasn’t come?”

“Yes, sir. It’s a new ticket we have been offering. You’ll notice how reasonably priced it was. You pay that price because the train service you are paying for hasn’t been created yet.”

“I’ve paid… wait, what? It hasn’t been created yet? What on earth…? You can’t do that? I need to get home! I’ve paid for a train to get me home! I… I… need to get home! When… when will a train come that can get me home?”

“Oh, not until a service has been created, sir. Could be weeks. Could be months. I wouldn’t have thought it would be any longer than a couple of years. But when that service is created, you’ll be prepared, sir. You’ve got a ticket.”

And with that, the station employee got back to sweeping the platform, whistling to himself as he did so.

13 thoughts on “The 21st Century Job”

  1. Brilliant! I’m assuming the protagonist in this story dictated it, as the punctuation it too tight for their skill set – although there was a ‘their’ in place of a ‘there’ at one point *tsk tsk* 😉

    What I love here are the multiple insights embedded within it:
    – The majority of old jobs are going nowhere – we still need them.
    – The majority of new jobs require the same fundamental education bedrock as previous ones.
    – The only way to focus education primarily on skills sets such as being creative is in a fuzzily empty way.
    – If it WAS possible to educate people in this way, the actual number of jobs being created which would really thrive just on these things could never fulfill the number of people looking for them.

    Is there anything out there debunking Shift Happens?? I’ve looked, but not found a proper take down of the statistics etc.

    Thanks – I will be passing this one round my colleagues 🙂

    1. …and in making a jovial comment about a misspelling I omitted a word from the very same sentence… oh Karma!

  2. Oh, I like a story, thank you. Happy to have found this one and just have a few things to add from a recent-graduate perspective. If a graduate is 11 months unemployed and still trying for jobs that test their maths aptitude and grammar, they must be very determined to get that kind of job. Yet this character doesn’t seem bothered to do the things he needs to do to get him through those barriers? Strange. Most jobs will not test these things and you’ll get a yes or no based on how much the interviewer likes you and likes the kind of life decisions you’ve made (I’ve worked in recruitment and it is this subjective, as much as many like to believe to the contrary… a manager with a degree wants to hire grads, a manager without wants to hire young people who’ve ‘taken their own path’). The thing with creativity, like any strength (such as strength with people, with organising etc) these strengths on their own have never and will never be enough to land a person a pay-cheque, especially in the future. We’re misleading students if they get this message, and they do get this message. What is important is the space and freedom to express these strengths in real ways. Hard core creative’s struggle so much in our school system because there is so little time or space to pin down original idea after original idea. We’re told to wait, wait, do this instead… by the end we’ve got some certificates and dulled sense of ‘once being creative’ and maybe a hope that this creativity, now limp from not being valued or strengthened in school, will be valued by someone else. (P.S. I know this might come across a bit grrr-y but it’s just because I find this topic so interesting, loving the post and conversations here!)

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