Jeff Weiner has a very clear vision of where he wants to take Mountain View, Calif.-based LinkedIn and he even knows how to get there. There isn’t any massive reinvention of the wheel. There is no churning the ocean. Instead, it is all about connecting the dots – people, data, stories. And of course, jobs. And he said as much in his on-stage conversation at Techcrunch Disrupt 2013 with Techcrunch co-editor Eric Eldon.
Sure, he offered up the cut-and-dried answers such as “people want to keep their private and professional networks separate” and “that we don’t really have competitors.” However, it was what he said about the future of work, the idea of work and the notion of reputation that makes LinkedIn an interesting company to watch over next few years. And I say that despite being skeptical of them during their early years.
His matter-of-fact-I-am-bored-with-all-this response to questions only mask the enormity of ambition – both his and the company that was co-founded by Reid Hoffman, the elder statesman of the social web crowd. Weiner, who in the past life worked for Warner Brothers and Yahoo, said his company wants to build the “economy graph” which would allow LinkedIn to map jobs to skills, talent, companies and geographies.
And in order to do so, it needs to bring almost 3 billion people who work (or will be looking for work) on to its platform. The company recently introduced its plans to launch a product for high-school students looking for colleges. It has been making inroads with the college crowd and is essentially locking up its future customers.
Where are the Jobs?
“There are 3.8 million open jobs in the US,” he said, arguing that what we currently have is a skills gap. “Technology is creating new job opportunities, but you don’t need to be a data scientist or a developer to have a job in the future, for there will be different kinds of job opportunities.”In order to better prepare for the big technological shift, he believes that as a society we should be investing in education for the long-term.
However, we need to invest in “vocational education to retrain workers of today for the jobs that are out there,” Weiner said. Why? because this, will have an immediate impact on the labor markets, Weiner argued. And lastly, he said that we should make immigration easier. I couldn’t agree more — the vocational retraining of the current workforce is something that isn’t a sexy topic and is often overlooked in any debate about work, immigration and the future.
The Fractionalization of Work
“The fractionalization of work isn’t going to go away,” he said, pointing out that the full time job opportunities as we have gotten used to “might not exist in the future.” It is a scary reality for many, especially those are yet to enter the workforce. Weiner told the audience that we have to think differently about work — AirBnB and Uber are creating new economic opportunities, for example.
There will be more such opportunities as technology merges with every day economic activity at a much deeper level. They are leading to jobs — but not the kind we can put in a box. Like Weiner, I have always believed that we have to look at things from a wider lens — work and not just a job. Fractionalization of work means that we could be living the uncertain reality of needing many gigs to pay the bills. We could also be living with the flexibility of working from a cottage on the edge of a lake (I am looking at you Mathew Ingram) or from an apartment in Berlin (Hi David) and still be part of the fabric of an economic enterprise.
How do you as a prospective employed make a discerning decision about picking someone to do a job? If you don’t have a steady full-time job, then what does a resume even mean? The fractionalization of work means that there is going to be a deeper need to have a reputation metric in the future.
How do you come-up with a reputation metric that accommodates a mechanical engineer, a software developer and an Uber driver. While GitHub can offer a peek into a developer’s talents, what is the best way to showcase a tutor’s abilities? It can’t just be dumb context-less and inhuman ratings. So far, the current reputation efforts — via endorsements, for example — aren’t really matching the vision of the future.
“Our profile will have as much flexibility to showcase the identity, personality and professional talent of a person in the future,” Weiner said, “and our platform will be a big part of it.” I don’t quite know what LinkedIn platform is — despite the company’s insistence, I don’t see the evidence of it having too much of an impact.
However, I do see piece of reputation-metric emerging at LinkedIn. Slideshare presentations can give a peek into a person’s abilities and thinking around. The blog posts on LinkedIn publishing platform are another cue into the capabilities (or lack there) of a white-collar job seeker. My colleague Derrick Harris has written about how LinkedIn is becoming an engineering powerhouse and in the process becoming a master data-wrangler. LinkedIn, under Weiner’s leadership seems to have a clear idea where it needs to go — and where the economy is going. And that is what makes them interesting.