Global Opportunities and Disruptions Impacting the World of Work in Future

January 19, 20168:36 am1639 views

Work is moving away from the 20th century model of 9-to-5, 40 hours per week and toward more fluid ideas about work and employment structures. Flexibility is rearranging the shape of conventional jobs. The “gig economy” is going further, developing new modes of working beyond the boundaries of the traditional job.

The ability of the Internet to erase both the effects of distance and the need for in-office collaboration is a key driver of the forecasts.  The gig economy is creating new models for work that move away from formal “jobs” and towards more open structures in which workers potentially gain greater autonomy but risk losing security.

This feeds two contrasting futures: one in which workers are liberated from the constraints of traditional jobs while still enjoying a secure livelihood, and a more unsettled future in which a surplus of available labour creates an online labour market that has workers bidding against each other to win gigs at the lowest level of compensation, with little safety net.

Workers everywhere will be affected by accelerating disruptions to the world of work—yet people in different economic positions will be impacted in very different ways, according to The Futures of Work, a groundbreaking new report from Foresight Alliance, a Washington DC-based foresight consultancy.

In the sea of current thinking about this urgent topic, The Futures of Work is unique for its breadth—exploring the futures of everyone from white-collar workers in high-income countries to subsistence farmers.

“We set out to break down the artificial barriers of income and geography that typically divide foresight in this area. The same forces promise—or threaten—to reshape work everywhere, at all socioeconomic levels,” commented Josh Calder, a partner at Foresight Alliance.

Beyond exploring forecasts in each of these areas in depth, The Futures of Work looks at practical implications for workers, employers, and governments over the next 15 to 20 years.

Four broad themes emerged from dozens of expert interviews and the review of hundreds of forecasts on the future of work:

  1. Software and robotics will reshape work in nearly every industry and region—eliminating some jobs, complementing human workers in other jobs, and creating entirely new jobs. Whether machines ultimately take work from people or work alongside them, considerable turmoil is highly likely.

See: What will the Workplace of the Future Look Like in 2016 and Beyond?

  1. Flexible and freelance work structures could speed the destruction of conventional jobs, producing an uncertain mix of insecurity and freedom for workers at every level.
  2. Workers in lower-income countries will need new paths to secure livelihoods in the face of these disruptive changes, as prior development models centered around rural work and manufacturing are losing their relevance.
  3. New structures, from income guarantees to new kinds of asset ownership, are being proposed to help ensure a positive future for workers. The Futures of Work evaluates many of the most prominent ideas.

A growing flexible workforce will require companies to adopt new tools and processes to motivate and manage these workers. Traditional employers have long used employee benefits as an important tool for boosting employee morale and loyalty, but these incentives aren’t as applicable to flexible workers.

Addressing this challenge is likely to be a growing issue. While high-income economies may lead in the adoption of flexible workers, flexible work is also growing in middle-income economies, as noted above.

Adecco, a temporary workforce staffing provider, forecasts that the contingent workforce will grow three to four times faster than the conventional workforce globally, and this growth will continue until contingent workers make up approximately 25% of the global workforce.

Supported by a grant from The Rockefeller Foundation, the report encapsulates a year-long study of forecasts for work and working populations. “There are a tremendous number of studies, forecasts, and scenarios about the future of work,” said Claudia Juech, associate vice president and managing director for Strategic Research at The Rockefeller Foundation.

“But not enough focus on the changes that people who have low incomes or are otherwise vulnerable and marginalized may experience. Foresight Alliance’s report aims to help address this research gap by cataloguing the drivers of change for this group, in addition to unpacking their potential effects over the next five years.”

Also read: Microsoft Explores the New World of Work Trends in Asia Pacific

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