More workers will become "disposable" in the future, said one economist.
Jeremy Hill, director of the Center for Economic Development and Business Research at Wichita State University, said trends are pointing toward workers becoming contractors rather than employees.
Companies are seeking ways to shed and build work forces as circumstances dictate.
Contract work forces save companies the cost of benefits and unemployment taxes and they allow them to quickly cut labor costs in a downturn and add new skills in an uptick.
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"It's all about companies reducing fixed cost," Hill said.
For workers, that has several implications, Hill said:
* Workers must keep skills and education up to date. They must keep proving themselves to companies.
* Those skills must be unusual and valuable, but not unique. Workers become like products and must differentiate themselves from competitors. Companies will hire and pay workers based on how rare and valuable their skills are. But those skills must also be transferable to other companies.
* Workers must keep their resumes up to date, use professional coaches even if they are working, network with others in the business, and learn to use labor brokers.
* Workers likely will be out of work more often, so they must save more money from when they are employed for those gaps and for retirement.
"You are your own company, so you have to act like it," he said.