Where does the future of work lie?

Posted: December 2, 2015 in Uncategorized

‘A job for life’ sounds like a judge passing sentence rather than an ambition to most people these days. Our parents’ generation saw things like the closing down of coal mines, shipyards and industry; our grandparents talk about leaving school, walking into their first job on Monday and if they weren’t happy, they would find another job on Tuesday. Anyone who talks about the halcyon era of ‘a job for life’ today is harking back to a time that would in fact be unrecognisable to many.

As the very notion of a job for life dissipates so does the rigid structure that once supported it. Around half of employers have had a policy which specifically forbade previous employees from returning in the past. Now 76% welcome ‘boomerang employees’ back again. Re-hiring a former employee who left on good terms enables an employer to welcome back somebody who not only knows the company, its culture, ethos and hierarchy in advance, but someone who has also gained experience outside of that particular corporation’s bubble. Another upshot of this is not only a more highly skilled workforce, it also results in greater employee confidence. If you know that your boss will have you back if you try to take a punt on a new career, you’re more likely to take a chance that would once have once been seen as ‘burning your bridges’.

People who’ve performed well in a variety of roles have different techniques, insights and attitudes which they have seen working in competitors’ environments. From these they’ve cherry-picked the ones they know to be most effective. As Rosemary Haefner, vice president of Human Resources at CareerBuilder puts it: “More workers are pursuing opportunities with various companies to expose themselves to a wider range of experiences, build their skill sets, or take a step up the ladder in pay or title.”

But some people still don’t see that when you’ve been working short-term contracts and ad hoc gigs you’ve been adding disparate skills to your toolbox. Rather, they see you as a job-hopper and potentially unreliable. That’s a blinkered way of looking at someone with a unique spectrum of skills.  Migration creates a talented asset who can bring far more to the party than HR could ever fit in the job description.

Embrace change and know how to handle it

Today people are bearing the pressure of uncertain times and not only coping, but turning the turmoil to their advantage. Looking to the future, people who can adapt quickly are going to be recognised as the workplace heroes industry needs rather than the unreliable flibbertigibbets who are overlooked in favour of the solid slogger.

Futurologist and founder of Fast Future Rohit Talwar says that “This generation of children will work until they’re 100 and work 40 jobs” with as many as 80% of the jobs we know today ceasing to exist within the next 20 years. And the reason for this? Automation and artificial intelligence (AI).

As the world we live in becomes more digital, so many more processes can be handed over to robots and computer programmes which will take much of the drudgery out of the workplace. AI will take the place of what many call “knowledge workers”. As the human / machine interface become more intuitive it won’t be necessary to have humans do jobs such as call handling, reception and administration. Instead of completing these tasks, staff will be able to employ their minds, solving problems in a haphazard, imaginative, inspired way that, as yet, machines are still incapable.

Make room for the avant garde

Among the things affecting change from the human to the machine is the retirement of Babyboomers. This creates space for younger people who are more inclined to ‘think digital’ than their analogue minded forebears. The adaptability of GenY and Millennials, their familiarity with technology and the way it should simplify our lives will propagate an ethos which is already present in many modern companies. This outlook means a solution based environment where the outcome will always outweigh the process. Never again will we hear the Voice of Doom crushing innovation with the phrase: “That’s just not the way we do things here”.

As automation continues to proliferate the workspace and take care of the everyday chores, we’ll have more time to spend on things such as thinking, collaborating and communicating in the office. Although that begs the question, ‘what will the office look like?’ Working remotely is becoming increasingly popular for many reasons, including saving time and money commuting. Employers can reduce the number of seats they need and therefore downsize the amount of rented office space they need. Nobody can have failed to notice the number of people working away at their computers in coffeeshops the length and breadth of the country. Perhaps that will be the new model for the rest of the century. No more cubicles in banks of identical pods but a cafe style layout where people can move freely to work with different people on different projects.

Asking future generations “What do you want to be when you grow up?” will become understandable only as an outmoded concept. While there are enough rewarding, satisfying jobs out there, why stick to one? If Mr Talwar is also right when he says “Within the next five years, 20 per cent of all the jobs that exist today will have been automated away. By ten years that could be at least 50 per cent and by 20 years, 80 per cent” we’ll all have the time we need to experiment with whatever career we choose. What’s more, with all the additional abilities we’ll have accrued from our broad experience, we’ll be able to do those jobs better than ever before. By remaining adaptable we ensure that the possibilities for our futures are endless.

 

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