Work is one of the key pillars that holds up our lives. We will spend an average of 90,300 hours across our lives working.
I spent a lot of last year researching and talking about work, and one of the biggest issues is that it means different things to different people. For some, it’s a daily grind to earn enough to pay a mortgage. For some, it’s centred around a true calling or a passion. Each person’s work consists of different daily tasks, start times and business structures, and we all sit within different parts of the work hierarchy. Regardless, work in all its forms tends to be an integral part of our identity.
When we talk about making fairer work a reality, we must have cooperation from board level to basement, but the world of work is changing and so too are the old structures that govern it.
It is predicted that by 2020 half the work force will be freelancers, so the boss they need to cooperate with is actually themselves. The freelancer will work for multiple companies on different projects, but with none of the benefits or securities. Where does that leave them when it comes to creating a fairer workplace? For many, freelancing balances a loss of benefits with flexibility and the chance to work the way they want to. But even in the traditional world of employment, work no longer comes with guaranteed safety and security. Zero-hours contracts are becoming the norm and ‘traditional’ work is becoming more and more volatile.
Education and work need to be closely intertwined, but we still have an education system set up for the industrial revolution. How can we be educating and training our children when 60% of the jobs they will do currently don’t exist?
It’s easy to think that these changes in the workplace won’t affect us all, that automation just affects supermarket checkout workers, but nothing could be further from the truth. Automation will affect the way everyone works, particularly those gatekeepers of knowledge – the professionals.
Machines are going to become more capable and intelligent in areas that we didn’t think they ever could. We think ‘a robot couldn’t do my job’, but a robot doing a human’s job will not operate like a human doing the same job. First we do things differently, then we do different things. This is where the innovation happens. We are already seeing robots performing surgery. In some sectors, robots will make certain professions entirely obsolete, leading to job losses and high unemployment, but in many instances robots will work alongside humans and make our lives a little easier.
William Gibson said, “The future is already here – it’s just not very evenly distributed.” A third of UK jobs are set to disappear over the next two decades and hundreds of new roles and career paths will emerge over the same time, but we need to be realistic. We often overestimate the speed with which innovation comes, while we underestimate the impact it will have pretty much every time.
We all need to reimagine the way we work. We need to reinvent the future of work and the companies we work for. It doesn’t matter what sector or industry, it’s likely your job is based on the classic corporate structure, which has been built up over centuries on the premise of the housewife. Men went to work and women stayed at home. Today everything has changed except that corporate structure. We need to redesign it equally. There are just as many men as women who feel sick about going into work on a Monday, and there are just as many men who would like to spend more time with their children. All employees in the UK have the legal right to request flexible working, optimising start and finish times or working from home, though most are unaware of this.
We need to wake up to some of the opportunities, but also the threats to a fairer world of work. We cannot close our eyes and hope this goes away. We need to actively, proactively ‘future proof’ our employability and look at how we redefine employment in the future.Ruth Amos