Can you picture working in an organisation where there are a lot of job openings, but you can’t apply for any of them, simply because of a skill mismatch?
Imagine if you were to work on an hourly basis, and there was no real certainty of earning a defined income for the same work; would you still feel economically secure?
What if there was no real work for you to meaningfully contribute at a workplace?
Be it boardrooms or parliaments, the word ‘disruption’ has become more vocal than ever before. There are massive transformations happening across the globe in every industry. For instance, 3D printing is making it possible to produce goods starting from spare parts to human organs. Soon, we will be able to visit a corner shop which offers 3D printing facilities. We can walk in with our digital designs and walk out with our favorite products; it could be a Mickey Mouse pencil or a replacement for a broken hand without any human intervention. This means that just one technology has the power to disrupt several industries; like manufacturing, logistics and IT. Can you imagine what could happen if we had more advancements like these easily available to us? When industries get disrupted – won’t it change the concept of work as well?
In fact, there are a few employment trends that are warning us to prepare to experience newer work patterns such as Exclusive work, On-Demand Work and even No Work. Let’s take a closer look at what these are:
I. Exclusive work International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that 45 percent of the World’s current 7.6 billion population belongs to the working class community. Recent studies by McKinsey reveal that 10 percent adults are unemployed and 30-45 percent are underutilised at work. They typically belong to the US, UK, Germany, China, India and Brazil. About 60 percent graduates from these countries are not adequately prepared to work due to a skill mismatch. Moreover, 60 percent of the existing occupations worldwide can be automated to a considerable extent. The same study also claims that occupations will go through huge changes in the forthcoming decades. This will lead to further employment exclusion due to a new set of skill requirements.
These studies clearly indicate that work is becoming more and more non-inclusive for a majority of the working class population, a condition I personally refer to as ‘Exclusive work’. This is a condition where there will be enough work available for people but many will not be able to participate meaningfully.
II. On-Demand Work
This kind of work arrangement has become increasingly popular among professionals who seek flexible work timings to fulfill their professional and personal requirements. Examples include driver services, tutoring, medical advisory, legal advisory, care giving, and so on. Uber, TakeLessons.com and Upcounsel are a few popular startups where work gets done this way. Even well-established organisations are exploring such work arrangements. McKinsey estimates that, there are 34 percent workers in the US, 50 percent in the UK, 45 percent in the European countries and 40 percent in India, that belong to the on-demand category of employment. Here, the concern is, many of them have opted for this, out of economic compulsion and not by choice. In this setup, there is a lack of guaranteed availability of work, decent working conditions, and lack of training opportunities to upgrade their skills, no predictable income and even a lack of social protection.
III. No Work
Technology experts and billionaires like Bill Gates and Elon Musk say that this is another situation we may soon encounter. This is due to the significant advancements happening in machine learning (ML) algorithms, the Internet of Things (IOTs), Artificial intelligence and Robotics. Unlike the ‘Exclusive work’ with a substantial gap in skilled workforce, this ‘no work’ is a worrying situation where all possible work gets automated and performed by machines. Technological advancements are already making it possible to perform not only the logical tasks like autonomous driving but also, the creative ones, such as content creation, generating fresh tunes and music without human intervention. This raises some fundamental questions such as what will people do with the availability of resources and time? What will the upcoming economy look like? How will income be generated and distributed? What does productivity mean in an era where there is no work? These questions may create a lot of anxiety among the working class.
So, how can we prepare ourselves to address such new realities at work?
Though the issues are complex, instilling the following three mindsets will help us cope with the changing concept of work.
i) Instilling an exploratory mindset:
In the past, individuals were often evaluated on the basis of their skills and experience, which were required to perform a role they specialise in. The most popular question often used in an interview was, “where do you see yourself five years from now?”
Today, the very idea of settling down in one specific role/ career path has become a delusion. Individuals are required to explore opportunities and continuously learn relevant skills across boundaries, as they move up the corporate ladder. For instance, Billionaire Jack Ma, the founder of the Alibaba group spotted the opportunity of online retailing, during one of his casual trips to the US, where he got accidentally introduced to internet in 1994. Another interesting fact is the way he learned English. When he was 12, he used to work in hotels as a tourist guide and he picked up English by conversing with them. He always shows his willingness to learn and continue to explore new opportunities till date. Organisations have started actively creating this new shift, also called the internal learning culture. Cultivating this mindset could be one of the most ideal ways to deal with the problem of ‘exclusive work’, to reduce skill gaps in one’s career.
ii) Instilling an investing mindset
In a world where we have a multitude of learning opportunities, wouldn’t it be ideal to invest in one’s own self-development generously? The age old idea of completing a University degree, may no longer work in an economy where we are challenged with problems like ‘no work’ or ‘on demand work’. This requires each one of us to invest time, money and efforts, on an ongoing basis, to acquire new skills that are relevant in the Industry. For instance, Technology has made it possible to access content, developed by some of the top notch Universities and training organisations across the globe. The creation of massive open online courses by organisations like Coursera, Artificial Intelligence(AI)-powered application like Orai for communication and sales training, virtual reality based applications like Public speaking Virtual Reality, Inmind for Neurology etc., enable the participants to master a skill, with supreme learning experience and without boundaries, unlike the conventional classroom setups. Investing in self-development will therefore prepare us to stay relevant, even if the work becomes limited to a very few.
iii) Instilling a creative mindset
“Either use it; or lose it”. Experts have proved over and over, that an individual’s brain tissues can be grown by partaking in creative activities. Unfortunately, organisations prefer predictability and expect their workers to act quickly, rather than to craft something new. Over a period of time, workers get so conditioned to acting, they lose their unique ability of creating. Due to hyper automation at work, the new work styles of ‘exclusive work’ or ‘on demand’ work, encourage not only quick action, but also creative outputs. For instance, Industries like Health care will see a huge disruption in the form of personalized medicine, proactive diagnosis of diseases and preventive treatment. This will produce a new set of creative opportunities for caregiving professionals. Individuals with creative mindsets will be increasingly on demand where unique experiences have to be created for the consumers. As a result, being able to work differently will help one create niche opportunities and stay relevant.
Though there are different ways to act on the changing context of work, one must understand that the responsibility of making it less chaotic, rests not only with the organisations, but also with the individual workers. More than ever, it is important to act now. It is time for us to alter our paradigms and change our way of seeing things, before we start to drown in our own creations.
The author is an Assistant Manager (Human Resources) at Wipro Limited