Whether you're listening to the nightly news, checking the latest opinions on the internet, or just catching up with friends over drinks, the topic of unemployment has probably been coming up. A lot. Also, this probably isn't something you just noticed recently.

How directly affected you and those around you are can rely on a number of different factors: location, professional industry, network connections, education, and many, many more. Anyone who can truly claim to be insulated from the effects of growing unemployment (arguable, to say the least), is likely at a point of wealth or time that traditional work and income is an alien world for them altogether.

An article today in The New York Times addressed a solution that, to my knowledge, hasn't been largely explored in the US, or many places in general: Fictional Employment. Now, the work that the people, companies, and innovators are doing are anything but fake. They show up every day, do hard work with skills from mundane to highly specialized, and make a mark they can be proud of. The catch? Their economy, pay, and most goods are entirely fictitious.

For the Love of the Game

So what's the game, if nobody is taking home a paycheck in these companies? The entire goal is combating the massively negative and compounding disadvantages of long term unemployment. These businesses aren't intended to be something that you elect to drop your existing day-job for, in return for promises of wealth and success.

Unexpected unemployment can be an impossibly large burden to fathom, especially if you haven't been there yourself. Even if you begin hunting for new work immediately, it can take quite some time to get back in the game. Add to that, that every week, month, much less year you are unable to force your way back into your field, the drastically less desirable you become. No 'aging like fine wine' here. If you don't already have a job going into an interview, the first question is often going to be "So, why should we give you one?"

These businesses are an opportunity on many different fronts as far as employment is concerned:

  • You are actively doing something. This keeps your energy levels up, your outlook positive, and gives you an incredibly interesting and thought provoking topic for your resume and interviews.

  • Working can actively maintain or grow your skill sets for use in later employment. Getting rusty or complacent can be one of the most insidious and subtle dangers of extended unemployment.

  • Call me unhealthily optimistic, but some of the greatest business ideas and opportunities have come from adversity. While this should not be the goal, there may be some amazing business ideas and new entrepreneurs forged out of the learning process.

Upwards and Onwards

A big strength of the system The New York Times looked at included the fact that it had multiple businesses involved, and so was able to essentially create an entirely fictitious economy. This opens the door to move from basic, role-playing skill training to genuinely empowering opportunities to learn and grow professionally. Even a top class MBA graduate would tell you there are things you can't hope to learn in school that are necessary to professional success; this is where you learn them.

Further formalizing this system (without attempting to brand / restrict / distort it) could prove to have even greater benefits in the global job market. The larger this fictional economy grows, the more complex and impressive the work within it becomes. Establish enough success, and you all but accredit the value of achievements within the system as they apply to the real world. As technology and other disruptors rapidly encroach on traditional education, this becomes a genuinely feasible alternative and supplement.

Handled carefully, nearly any profession would stand to gain from these exercises in professional growth. From a personal, web-centric stand point, the collaboration opportunity is endless. I have many peers who would grow from regular interaction amongst developers, designers, project leaders, and many other moving parts. They can't have that, however, until they have a job. They can't have a job though, until they already have that! Cue everyone's favorite line: Entry level position; 5 years experience required!

On top of that, many new web professionals could re-purpose their work (code, design, you name it!) as a viable product all its own! Create a WordPress template for your company, or one of their clients, and then tweak it and place the template files on ThemeForest. As long as everyone involved is treated fairly, which is the whole point of the endeavor, additional, genuine income can be a very big perk as you keep looking for your next opportunity.

What do you think about expanding and fostering a system for professional growth and training like this? Would it be possible without making it just as inaccessible as real work by its very nature?