Before the existence of the internet, if a person wanted to work a job, they most often had to work a nine to five job at an office, a warehouse, or a factory. The traditional way of advancing one’s career, at that time, was to work up through the field, becoming knowledgeable about what it took to make money in that particular vocation. This is why college was viewed as such a necessary public good: people learned skills that enabled them to succeed at their jobs, rather than becoming stuck in what amounted to a seven-year (or longer) apprenticeship.

While he studied the economic conditions of England and Scotland, Adam Smith came to the conclusion that there was little reason for seven-year apprenticeships to exist in the 18th century. In his 1776 book, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, he makes the following remarks:

The laws and customs of Europe, therefore, in order to qualify any person for exercising the one species of labour, impose the necessity of an apprenticeship, though with different degrees of rigour in different places. They leave the other free and open to every body. During the continuance of the apprenticeship, the whole labour of the apprentice belongs to his master. In the meantime he must, in many cases, be maintained by his parents or relations, and, in almost all cases, must be clothed by them. Some money, too, is commonly given to the master for teaching him his trade. They who cannot give money, give time, or become bound for more than the usual number of years; a consideration which, though it is not always advantageous to the master, on account of the usual idleness of apprentices, is always disadvantageous to the apprentice. (pp. 175-176)

This situation is not unlike the situation that exists today in corporate America. Minimum-wage jobs, used here to represent apprenticeships, serve the purpose of teaching a person skills he or she needs to make more money in the long run. That is, at least, what is supposed to happen. However, today’s companies- among them Wal-Mart, Target, and McDonald’s- have seen such high turnover rates that they no longer interest themselves in enabling employees to learn new job skills. The jobs of flipping burgers, or of stocking shelves, have so little requirements for knowledge and skill that anyone off the street can do such a job.

This is intentional. Business with high turnover rates cannot sustain profitability without changing their business models to reflect the reality of their business. They have to make work easy and simple, or else they would be wasting time training new people without having them stick around. People- young people with no skills, in particular- are then stuck with jobs they don’t like, forced into performing repetitive tasks over and over, having their spirit ground into the dust by both repetition and lack of opportunity.

But if high turnover is the cause of simplified processes, how to explain it? What is the difference between today’s market where people never stay at their jobs and the market of fifty years ago, when it was understood that if you wanted to move ahead in life, you stuck around with the employer who hired you?

There are several causes: the first and most significant of which happens to be the internet. Beyond looking at pictures of cats, and watching Epic Rap Battles of History, the internet enables commerce in the privacy of one’s own bedroom. It enables private individuals to provide value to other people whenever they choose. It is no accident, then, that today’s growth markets have to do with the internet- web design, web hosting, online banking, etc. People are driven to the internet because the internet is where the money is.

Rather than serving for seven years beneath a master, or at a minimum-wage job, people can now take their talents directly to the market and make what profit of it they can. Individuals who make a living through their ebay accounts- for example- take home 90% of the profit after ebay’s fees. People who make a living by selling their writing through amazon make 70% of the profit after amazon’s fees. People who set up either own web store make 100% of the profit, after operating expenses are taken into account.

This varies greatly from the traditional method of working for a company where employees have little choice of how much profit they take home. This comes in the form of wages. Today’s companies, many of them run by people who grew up in a world without the internet, still operate within the “work your way to the top” system. No company hires a CEO with no prior experience- though there’s every indication that they should.

The second, less obvious but nonetheless impactful, reason for high turnover rates has to do with personal interests. Increased access to knowledge through the internet means more people will have more interests. The more interests a person has, the less time they will be willing to invest in a nine to five job wherein the primary function of an employee is to do roughly the same thing every day, five days a week. Jobs are only taken because they are necessary; if there was another way to make money without having to work forty hours a week for someone else, then people are going to do that.

All of this became clear to me as I was filling out my personal interests for a new account on academia.edu. The site shares scholarly articles between people who share the same interests. I started with the obvious choice of Free Market. Then, as I kept brainstorming, I added Agorism, English Literature, Anarchism, Theories of Gender and Transgender, Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Studies, Transgender Studies, Transgender, Publishing, Creative Commons, Creativity, Creative Writing, Bitcoin, Cryptocurrency, Manga and Anime Studies, Japanese Language and Culture, Japanese Anime, Japanese Studies, Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Agriculture, Organic Agriculture, Capitalism, History of Science, Science Fiction and Fantasy, Science Fiction, Anthropology, Inorganic Chemistry, Metaphysics, Physics, Mathematics, and Philosophy.

No job I’ve ever had has ever offered any of these interests for me to pursue. Nor are there any minimum-wage jobs that offer an employee anything other than mindless drudgery. The only purpose a minimum-wage job serves is to enable a person to save up enough money to take a vocational class in order to get a better job elsewhere. Thus, high turnover rates.

To put it another way: people just don’t care about their jobs anymore. Human Resources people are already recognizing the increasing demand for personal engagement at jobs. The solutions offered thus far only exist within the corporate “work-your-way-to-the-top” paradigm. Nowhere is it suggested that employees be allowed to work from home- despite the fact that Skype and Google each provide a proof-of-concept system for video conferencing. The focus for companies should be on making money through the completion of tasks, not forcing people to commute to a centralized location five days a week.

With better opportunities, and more interesting vocations out there, people are just leaving their jobs for greener pastures. One article suggests that employees are simply bored (just as Smith’s apprentices were idle) with their jobs. But if business owners are hearing this message, they either don’t yet know how to change the culture of their businesses or consider it of no consequence as long as their own lucrative salaries continue flowing.

Though some jobs- such as auto mechanic- require a physical location in order for business to occur, others- such as medical claims examiner- do not. If the current trends are any indication, the independent operator will be the most successful person in the marketplace while the day laborer will consider his employment less than ideal.

The result of ignoring market trends and failing to understand what people want will eventually see employers have continual openings for skilled positions which require both training and experience. No one will bother with either the training or the experience when they can have a better time making money by acting on their own.

If things continue as they are- with employers putting their noses in balance sheets while failing to understand the human side of their profit margins- then the employee will have all the leverage in a business relationship. This is especially true of an employee with training and experience. The independent operator’s services will be ever more required. Businesses will have to adapt, or have a plan to liquidate their enterprise to another investor (which is functionally the same as going out of business).

The nine to five jobs, and the frustrating commutes that come with them, already appear to be a thing of the past. That can only serve to benefit everyone- the individual who has an intellectually stimulating job, the employer who will forced to improve to make a profit, and the consumers who will be purchasing products and services made with all the passion and energy of newly-engaged individuals who actually want to sell their labor.

The opposite, where employees are just going through the motions while employers have no interest in raising personal engagement, does not in any sense appear to be a model for company growth. As a result, the best companies of tomorrow will be the ones who understand this and adjust accordingly. The companies that cannot, or will not, adjust will no longer be with us.