The Mosaic Economy – Exploring Labor Markets in a Mosaic Economy

The concept of the mosaic economy suggests a fresh approach to analyzing labor market trends. The job market can be very dynamic, with new opportunities emerging as the economy shapes and re-shapes itself. People work in many creative efforts, often in jobs that do not fit neatly into the categories defined by labor market statistics.  Economic trends can create clusters of new jobs that span several different industries and occupations, and therefore could be easily missed by the formal data.

Formal labor market data should be just a starting point for discussion, helping to identify trends and to raise good questions. The data should be supplemented by observation, conversation about underlying trends and entrepreneurial prospects and other exploration.

In a healthy economy, industries and occupations may surprise experts by rebounding after a period of decline. New technology or rediscovery of old technology, and new consumer needs or renewed attention to earlier values can result in a turnaround of industries that had been expected to decline and die. Entrepreneurial efforts can tap into areas neglected by others, resulting in new energy and revival. Recently, revitalization in manufacturing and agriculture have demonstrated this concept. Recent news reports have highlighted a shortage of manufacturing workers suggests that decision-making by individuals and organizations in the past few decades was not sufficiently responsive to signs of resilience and revitalization in manufacturing.

Most importantly, there is a danger that if we view this data too rigidly, to imply that workers must be prepared and trained to compete for a limited number of pre-defined jobs, we will fail to understand the full potential of the economy.

For the past several years, I have worked with students and colleagues to gather informational interviews with people in a variety of career fields. I also gather data through several youth employment database projects that I manage, getting a glimpse of people’s careers and career paths. I have learned that many people have careers that evolved over many years, having been shaped by personal choices, changes in technology, local, national and world economic trends, environmental concerns, and other factors. Many people are now working in areas very different from the career paths that they started on when they were in high school, college and first jobs. Many work in job titles that they had never heard of and would not have thought of when they were in school and preparing to launch their careers. Many are pursuing their original career values and interests in ways they would not have predicted, in occupations and industries that are different from their earliest expectations.

When we ask people about their careers, several themes emerge. Basic themes of food, personal health, environment, community connectedness, artisanship and entrepreneurship mix together across industries and occupations to create a mosaic of career opportunities. Different ways of organizing work have produced opportunities in professional and business services in support of manufacturing, technology, health care and other sectors.

The values of “personal environment” and “community connectedness” are apparent in a variety of jobs. One example is a bookstore events coordinator who organizes readings, book clubs, discussion groups and lectures, making the bookstore a source of community connection. Another example is a workshop instructor in a “sewing lounge,” a fabric store where people can drop in to rent the sewing machines, take classes and workshops, buy fabrics and meet people.

Similarly-themed examples include a community gardening coordinator, farmers’ market coordinator, yoga instructor, fitness center manager, developer of a new social media website, writer for an online newspaper, park landscaper, instructor in a homelessness outreach project, pastor in a small community church, and a variety of other professionals in health, education, social and community settings. These jobs, which span private and public sectors, and include technology, services, hospitality and retailing, all center on the themes of personal environment and community connectedness.

Another theme is the importance in our personal, community and professional lives of making, growing, fixing and building things.

A small but visible artisanal economy is emerging, with both established producers and newer firms creatively producing organic food products, building wooden furniture, building boats, manufacturing custom bicycles, producing organic cotton fabrics, and designing and producing clothing.

On a larger scale, manufacturers are finding new niches in green technology, medical product development and even in many almost-forgotten sectors of basic manufacturing. Construction and mechanic/repair trades are evolving with the use of new technology and environmental approaches. Professional services in support of manufacturing and agriculture are re-emerging, with new demands for technical training, research, marketing and distribution support.

Another theme of the mosaic economy is the theme of social, personal and business entrepreneurship. People create and share open source software, create and launch new websites, organize community arts programs, youth programs, sports leagues, or recovery and self-help programs. People create start-up businesses and work in freelance roles. People invest time in community organizing, volunteer work and internships, not only for the experience itself, and not only for the benefit to communities, but, increasingly, as a way of investing in future careers.  Understanding the entrepreneurial focus of the current economy is important. Even in regular wage and salary jobs, people are most successful when they take an entrepreneurial approach to their work and long-term career path, being willing to try new things, take on new assignments, learn about new products and develop new skills.

Mosaic Economy Over the past year or so, I worked on a book called “The Mosaic Economy” about the mosaic of jobs and opportunities in today’s job market. The book is available as a paperback for $16 plus shipping from the Harvard Bookstore and as an e-book from Amazon. This week I have a “countdown deal” on Amazon allowing readers to purchase the e-book for a discounted rate of $1.99 rather than the usual e-book price of $9.99. While most of the work I do is available free of charge, this is a separate project…. and is something new for me. I appreciate your support on this exciting project and invite you to enjoy this excerpt and share this post via your organization’s social media.

The Mosaic Economy:

Ordering Information: Paperback from Harvard Bookstore | e-book from

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