Once all our production has shifted to low labour cost countries, will all that is left be people who have made their hobby into a career? And will that pay the bills?

Our society is a so-called post-industrial society. Production is shifting to low-pay countries, everything has become more mechanised and economies of scale and efficiency are deemed more  important than making sure everyone has something to do. Ever more people in the Western world are unemployed. Supposedly our society is service-based and knowledge-based, but not everyone is suited to this sort of work. More and more people in Western countries are being labelled failures, unable  to fit the mould at school or play an active role in the knowledge economy.

Meanwhile, in developing countries more people are finding jobs doing things we used to do here; manufacturing, production, making our clothes. As educated people in developing countries learn the skills needed in knowledge-based societies, even jobs in IT and call centres and the like are moving wherever labour is cheaper.  The wages they are paid are not enough to keep somebody in the West, but there they are relatively well-off. At the same time, traditional crafts are being lost as people spend their money on manufactured goods and Western-style manufactured goods.

Following your passion and living the dream

Paradoxically, many people in the West are being encouraged to ‘follow their passions’ and make their hobby into a job. All of a sudden, people are trying to sell the things they used to produce just for fun. There is a plethora of people trying to sell their wares, at craft fairs, through retail outlets or online, through platforms such as Etsy. Cottage industry is booming. But how many crocheted animals, beaded bracelets and hand-crafted soaps can we buy? How much of this is friends buying from friends? Surely there aren’t many people who can earn enough doing this to make a living?

What about a career in coaching?

Then there are the service-providers. The people who are passionate about make up or massage or feng shui and want to set up in business. But how many customers do they realistically have and will they come back? How many mobile hairdressers and beauticians can a town support? Not to mention the multitudes of coaches, for everything ranging from Art Coach to Walking Coach to Life Coach to Professional Organiser. I once attended a brainstorming session where I was the only person there who wasn’t a wannabe coach. As I’m writing this, I am struck by how many of the people ‘following their passion’ are women; men are still on the whole constrained by the 9 to 5 mentality. I can’t help thinking that a lot of the women who have one-person businesses are really doing it for what used to be called ‘pin money’; it’s still more or less a hobby.

As Amazon and online shopping take over, the varied shops in the high street are disappearing. For many years now, there has been a predominance of shoe shops and phone shops and not much else. Now I’m seeing increasing numbers of non-essential shops selling home decorations and luxury goods such as hand-made chocolates, alternating with cafés and small restaurants with ‘home-baked’ cakes. Probably all run by people who want to make their hobby into a career. All very well, but is there a market for all this hobbyism? I like to support local traders, but there are only so many chocolates I can eat.

A future of chocolates, coaching and networking events

I worry about where this is all leading us. With the pressure to make everything cheaper and more efficient, more of the work is done by machines and computers or people in far-off lands. What is left for the people in the Western world to do? As the population ages, more people will have to go into the caring professions, whether they want to or not. But even there, the pressures to cut costs have reduced the number of jobs and the time available for nursing staff to look after patients. So will we be left with a society of hobbyists, endlessly hawking home-made cakes and beauty treatments and indulging in coaching sessions to take away the boredom? Will we all spend our time meeting up at networking events, trying to persuade other hobbyists and coaches to sign up to our latest course or webinar or join another event where we will meet a selection of the same people, doing just the same thing? Probably. It’s happening already.  It’s quite fun, actually, but it doesn’t pay the bills.