This is not exactly something I ever thought I would have to tell my kids: “You may never have a single, reliable, full-time job during the course of your working lives.” But I am indeed going to tell them that. They need to understand how the changing trends in the job market are real, predictable, and have been coming for a while now. We’ve all heard of outsourcing, downsizing, job redundancy. Businesses will do whatever they must to stay afloat, which is why we are becoming a nation of the “consultant,” the contract worker, and the freelancer. More and more of us will be part-timers and piecemealers, and this leads to a profound shift in how we think about careers and ourselves.

CNN Money reports that jobs are returning to America, but indeed they are these – the limited position, with no perks or benefits. The expectation of the last half-century or more – that one graduates school, obtains work in your given field, and that workplace provides you with a living wage, health and life insurance for you and your dependents, pension and/or savings plans, paid vacation and sick days, and a reasonable expectation that you may remain employed for many years – is less and less likely for most people. If your need as a worker can be minimized, it will be. If you will work for less, you will be offered less. If what you offer as a worker can be easily duplicated by others, you will be employed until someone else comes along who will do it better and cheaper than you. This is how capitalism plays out in a weak economy.

Your security net, the American Dream hammock, has now got an awful lot of big holes in it. And there’s no reason to expect that things will ever be as they were, so adapting to the changes is the smartest way to go. It’s not all grim. In America there are always big winners and big losers, payoffs and risks. Depending on what kind of life each person wishes to build here, there’s usually a way to work things out. Here’s what I’m gonna tell the kiddies (and you).

1. Get your edumacation: It might seem pointless to the new college grad who has to go back to working at the Baskin-Robbins ice cream scooper job they had at 17. All that money, all the effort…for what? It’s a lot to take on for a job that isn’t even close to what you want to be doing, or is paying you far less than what you need to have to become independent. I get it. But these are the crucial things you need to remember as you replace the strawberry cone that some crying kid dropped on the floor for the second time: your education WILL open doors for you and DOES make you a better and broader thinker, with experiences that are priceless in how you deal with your life from that point forward. Trust me on this, because I’m on the internet.

2. But choose your edumacation wisely: There is some value to going to school just to get your Hoop Jumping certificate, absolutely. But that’s not enough now, and you need to structure your hard work and investment in a more focused and intelligent way right from the start. This is far, far easier if you already know what you are good at, what kind of work you’d like to do, and what kind of workers are predicted to be in demand where you want to be. If you don’t have any clue, well, just pick something that seems pretty good and grounded in realism. If it’s very important that you need to earn a living, don’t take on a degree program that will turn out to be…a Hoop Jumping certificate. If you are rich already and expect to remain rich, congrats and please enjoy a slumming beer at the local college dive. If you aren’t rich, take advantage of counselors to help you plan out what you should do. Inform yourself about the job market. It’s possible that a traditional college isn’t the best fit for you, and a vocational degree might be a better choice to get in-demand and steady work. For others, you may want to consider a professional degree that takes a great deal of work and will challenge you far past what you thought you could do. The point for everyone is to make yourself the most desirable worker and to obtain skills past your peers. Sorry, sloths.

3. Learn to hustle: Pro freelancers already know this – if you want to eat, you must constantly be working on setting up your next project, even while you are still in your current gig. If this is what the nature of the workforce is going to be in the coming years, everyone needs to seriously gear up. Network, network, network. Always Be Closing. Pay attention to what’s going on inside and outside your field. Talk some, but listen more. When you do talk, tell people what you are doing, and what you are looking for without being scammy. Be willing to put yourself out there. This is not easy, and it can be very nerve-wracking and exhausting. Developing the hustle you are going to need to get by is going to exciting for some and excruciating for others. Getting skills that you are confident in and are in demand helps (see #1 and #2). That said, you don’t need to stab other people in the back to get what you want, and remember that your bad business behavior tends to surface to your detriment at some point anyway. Don’t be an ass.

4. Become a savvy financial planner: A crucial component to a successful experience in the land of the free and the home of the consultant is to have the discipline to set aside money for what you need instead of buy cute shoes and go to Florida with the old college mates. Your employer isn’t going to give you squat other than your basic paycheck? Then YOU have to provide your own security. It’s YOU that has to pay for the perks like insurance. YOU have to have a savings account, even if it seems you have not a penny to spare for one. YOU cannot say, well, I’ll do all this later. No matter what your age or situation, accidents and illness happen and can bankrupt you fast, and it’s pretty likely that at some point you will be unable to work, maybe for years. Set up what you NEED to have first. DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT rely upon the government or your family members to bail you out if something happens to you. Neither may be able to at all in the future. Assume you are on your own at all times and make the decisions that will set you up to survive and thrive in times that are tough.

5. Also assume it takes a village: This may seem contradictory to #4, but it isn’t. There is a big difference between healthy cooperation and vampire-ish dependence. It may be that you will, by necessity, have to share housing and material goods with others all of your life in order to obtain any at all. Despite your best efforts in #1-#4, you may have to live with family, roommates, or go all kibbutz, always. Even having a two-income family may not be enough, especially if neither earner has a steady position. This is going to take another set of skills that faded out with the Industrial Revolution: How To Get Along With Others For A Long-Ass Time. With any luck, this will make people more empathetic and tolerant rather than bring on an unprecedented amount of domestic calls seen on “COPS.” Although that would be really good for the “COPS” producers.

6. Focus, and diversify: OK, again contradictory, yes. But you must always be thinking ahead to your value as a worker. Don’t be really, really good at just one thing, in case that one thing goes out of favor in the workplace and you are stuck. Be really good at a few things along the way. This is maybe not as hard as it seems. Assess your skills every so often – they can translate to other careers better than you might first realize. And as you go along, take any opportunities to pick up new skills via classes, connections, your hobbies, etc. Being well-rounded is not diluting your primary skill set; it’s adding to your value.

7. Seriously consider working for yourself: It’s one way to supplement your part-time work for others, or give yourself a full-time job. Even in bad economies, new businesses can flourish. Bring something people really need or want, have a solid business plan, good people working with you, get ace financial advice so you can handle the ups and downs, and you got a shot, kid. If you’ve developed hustle, why not hustle for yourself, entrepreneurs? (Note: this does not include illegal activities, because jail is just terrible even though you would get regular meals, basic health care, and reliable housing.)

There is a part of me that truly mourns that we are losing the old model. It’s the security you have in thinking that your work -- and you -- are important enough for a company to keep as you both develop over the years, until you are ready to retire with your gold watch and a condo in Florida. It’s a really damn good thing to be able to raise your family without worrying too much that your paycheck comes to an end in three months and you aren’t exactly sure what’s coming after that. There is a huge value to our society in that, which can never be replaced by millions of uninvested transient contract workers. How fractured we are now.

My hope is that we at least become more resilient, more resourceful, less wasteful, and more grateful. The workplace changes aren’t coming years from now; they are here. How we respond as a nation of part-timers will reveal much about the strength of our country, and each one of us.