Forty percent or more of the workers in the U.S. are caught up in what economists and others who follow business trends call job churn, the movement of people into and out of the labor market.
Job churn has always been with us, but over the last few decades it has grown significantly in size and scope.
Robert Kimmit, Deputy Secretary of the Treasury, writing in The Washington Post (January 23, 2007, p. A17), has provided some telling statistics:
- The year 2006 saw the highest turnover rate since the government began keeping records on it in 2000.
- 55 million people left their jobs in 2005.
- Average job tenure has dropped to 6.6 years.
- Today’s workers will have an average of ten different employers between the ages of 18 and 38.
Statistics like these indicate something momentous, even earth-shaking, is happening, but they do little to shed light on the underlying causes. They are like a news report of a certain number of people killed, injured, and left homeless that fails to mention there was a hurricane.
This data is the surface manifestation of an upheaval that is going on at the core of how we define work.
Like tectonic plates moving against each other along a fault line, the Industrial Age, where work was organized in discrete bundles directed toward production, is receding, while the Information Age, where work is organized around knowledge directed toward service, is advancing.
The stress of these two forces moving in opposite directions has produced what thought-leaders are calling a “workquake,” and the familiar structures of employment security have been swallowed up in the chasm it has left behind.