October 8th, 2009
01:08 PM ET

What is a job?

Editor's Note: This article begins our new series excerpted from AC360°'s contributor David Gewirtz's upcoming book, How To Save Jobs, which will be available in October. Over the next few months, we'll be excerpting the first section of the book, which answers the question, "How did we get here?". The second section consists of recommendations about what we need to do as a country to save jobs. The third, final section is a series of hands-on tips and techniques, things real people and real companies can do right now to help keep and create jobs - without waiting for anyone in Washington to get it right. To learn more about the book, follow David on Twitter @DavidGewirtz.

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David Gewirtz | BIO
AC360° Contributor
Editor-in-Chief, ZATZ Publishing

Job. Such a simple word has such a profound meaning for everyone in our society. Three simple letters reflect where we spend much of our time as adults, how well we can support ourselves and our families, and even our standing in our communities.

When we're making a living, or having an occupation, a trade, a career, a profession, a calling, a vocation, and a livelihood, we're also talking about jobs. But what exactly is a job? Why do jobs exist? How are they created? How are they lost? And, most importantly, how can we save them?

You need to understand why a job exists.

Let's talk for a minute about what, exactly, a job is. Fundamentally, a job is a trade of time, skill, and spirit for something of value, usually money. You and I put in a good work week and we expect to get paid.

But who pays for the jobs? To answer that question (and it's a very important question), you need to understand why a job exists. At its root, a job exists because somebody needs something done and either can't, or won't - or doesn't want to - do it himself.

Sometimes, we rent that skill. For example, when you go to see a doctor, you're renting a portion of her time, in return for her wisdom, experience, and skill. Many people who freelance or who perform trade work (plumbers, electricians, carpenters, etc.,) often also rent their skill like doctors – a few hours at a time to each client or customer.

If you're a freelancer or a sole proprietor, you not only have to do a good job, you need to create your jobs, get your gigs, and run your own business. This information might help you, because it will help make your business more successful. It might even help you reach the point where you're creating additional jobs.

The more traditional job exists because a company hires an employee. The company needs work done, and the employee agrees to do the work in return for a paycheck - and those all-important benefits.

What's your occupation? How are you occupied? Do you work for someone else, have them tell you what to do and how to spend your time, in return for money and benefits? Many jobs are great and people love them. But many other people hate their jobs, staying simply because the job market is so soft or because they're trapped by a benefits package.

Your company does not exist to create jobs. Jobs are the by-product of enterprise.

When I first left engineering school more than a quarter of a century ago and entered the labor force as a newly-minted computer scientist, I didn't really understand what made my job possible and, honestly, as long as I got paid and the work didn't suck too much, I certainly didn't care why my job existed.

Many employees don't think very far beyond that basic transaction of time for work (and health insurance). Oh, at a very general level they understand the company needs to be making money, but the details of that process often seem very far removed from the tasks done each day.

Things become more tangible during down markets. It's at this time that layoffs happen. A company usually reduces its headcount because it's not making enough money or is somehow not successful enough to keep everyone employed. A company reduces headcount because something's not working right.

Sometimes, the company hired people it shouldn't have and layoffs are a correction. Sometimes, the company uses a down economy as an excuse to get rid of poor performers and those with bad attitudes. And sometimes, the company simply can't afford to make its payroll.

In all these cases, it's the business climate that informs the company's employment strategy. Clearly, the better the company is doing, the more likely it is to keep its employees - and perhaps even hire more.

A job, fundamentally, is a way of supporting oneself and his or her family. It doesn't necessarily mean going to a place of work and having a boss. Your job could involve freelancing or building your own business.

My job is like that. I last had an official, go-to-work boss all the way back in 1986. That means I've been making my own living by creating products and services, writing and publishing, and helping other businesses succeed for almost 25 years.

But while a job, in the eyes of most employees, is a way of supporting themselves, companies do not exist to create jobs. Jobs are not the purpose of enterprise. Jobs are the by-product of enterprise. This is a very important concept and is absolutely fundamental to the mission of saving jobs.

A company is not successful because it has created jobs. A company creates jobs because it has some level of success. The more successful a company is, the more jobs it creates to support that success.

It stands to reason, then, that if we want more jobs and we want to save the jobs we have, our companies need to be more successful. The answer to the question of "How do we save jobs?" is this: create more successful and sustainable companies.

Later in thisseries, I'll tell you how to do just that. I'll help you understand some tactics and strategies for making sure your business is more successful, and help you understand how you can thrive in times of challenge and times of change.

Follow David on Twitter at http://www.Twitter.com/DavidGewirtz.

Editor’s note: David Gewirtz is Editor-in-Chief, ZATZ Magazines, including OutlookPower Magazine. He is a leading Presidential scholar specializing in White House email. He is a member of FBI InfraGard, the Cyberterrorism Advisor for the International Association for Counterterrorism & Security Professionals, a columnist for The Journal of Counterterrorism and Homeland Security, and has been a guest commentator for the Nieman Watchdog of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University. He is a faculty member at the University of California, Berkeley extension, a recipient of the Sigma Xi Research Award in Engineering and was a candidate for the 2008 Pulitzer Prize in Letters.

Filed under: 360° Radar • David Gewirtz • Economy • Unemployment
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