Future of work
Automation, advanced manufacturing, AI, and remote work are dramatically changing the nature of work, while the gig economy is forcing societies to redefine what it means to be an employee. Workers from all walks of life need to prepare for the impact they’ll see in their fields—and prepare for jobs that don’t exist yet.
Art: Quartz. Photo: Reuters/BEAWIHARTA
A pressing question
What are the implications of aging workers?
Over the past 20 years, the share of US workers toiling away in their 70s rose from less than 10% in 2000 to nearly 15% today. But now that the pandemic is pushing people into early retirement, older workers are facing more hurdles. In addition to age discrimination, they tend to work in more contact-related jobs, which might dissuade them from taking on the risk.
Still, aging is costly. In the current environment, if people can’t afford to save more, they may just delay retirement.
One big number
40%: The share of jobs in Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries that are “middle-skilled.”
The job market is bifurcating. From 1995 to 2015, the share of jobs classified as “middle-skilled” fell from 49% to 40% in countries that are part of the OECD, a club of rich nations. At the same time, both low-skilled and high-skilled jobs grew. Middle-skilled jobs are those that take significant training but little critical thinking once the skill is learned, like being a machine operator or office clerk. Automation has killed many of these jobs and has hit those without college degrees hardest.
Charting WFH inequality
The flexibility of remote work is proving a boon to many during the pandemic. But teleworking’s contributions to income inequality could be felt for years to come.
When IMF economists looked at workers’ ability to telework in 35 countries, they found that roughly 100 million people—15% of the workforce in those places—would struggle to do so, either because they work in a field that requires face-to-face interaction or because they don’t have access to the internet. The ability to telework also varied dramatically from country to country: More than half of households in most developing countries don’t have a computer at home.
“In 30 years, a robot will likely be on the cover of Time magazine as the best CEO. Machines will do what human beings are incapable of doing. Machines will partner and cooperate with humans, rather than become mankind’s biggest enemy.” —Jack Ma, Alibaba founder and chairman
Commonly held question
Are coding bootcamps worth it?
In a rapidly changing economy, there’s been a growing need for lifelong learning. Companies like General Assembly and Lambda School are hoping to cater to that demand. The number of students graduating from coding bootcamps in 2019 hit a record 34,000, estimates Career Karma. That said, the rags-to-riches stories are few and far between; what’s more common is educated people looking to pick up relevant skills. So far, technology has been more successful at increasing the learning opportunities for people who are really good at learning than broadening access to this model in a fast and cost-effective way.
Person of interest
Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi is helping redefine the future of work, including by carving out a set of workers who don’t fit into the binary of “employee” or “independent contractor.” California’s Proposition 22, which passed in November, exempts gig companies like Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, and Instacart from needing to classify their workers as employees, a distinction that would require them to pay into benefits like workers’ compensation and health insurance. Instead, the companies will offer a limited package of new benefits.
Previously the CEO of Expedia, Khosrowshahi took over Uber in 2017 to help reform the company’s toxic culture under Travis Kalanick’s reign. Since then, Uber has gone public, expanded aggressively into global markets, and moved into food and grocery delivery.
Here are four links worth exploring on the future of work:
- We are entering a golden age for borderless, global teams by Jackie Bischof. Collaborating across borders is an increasingly important part of the modern workplace. In this Quartz field guide, we explain how the best international teams thrive.
- American Factory by Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert. Winner of the 2019 Oscar for best documentary, American Factory explores what happened when the Chinese company Fuyao Glass opened a factory in a small town in Ohio. It’s a remarkable film about the perils of globalization (available on Netflix).
- Does being made “essential” finally give gig workers the upper hand? by Michelle Cheng. Covid-19 has been a scary time for gig workers but also an opportunity. Cheng looks at the way giggers at places like Instacart and Amazon have used their increased importance during the pandemic to demand better work conditions.
- A is for Automation by Dan Kopf and Bárbara Abbês. Forget about preparing yourself for the future of work—think about the children. This children’s book from Kopf and Abbês playfully introduces kids to the forces of automation, shifting job prospects, and the gig economy.
Millennials are always the butt of the joke: They’re lazy, self-entitled, and too invested in personality quizzes. They’re also seen as not being able to stick to a job. But data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the average job tenure for Americans in their 20s and 30s was almost the same in the 1980s as it is today. In 1983, the median years of tenure was three, versus 2.8 in 2020.
What is work sharing? In the US, at least 27 states have work-sharing programs, which offer partial unemployment benefits to people whose hours have been reduced. This can be particularly helpful during downturns… or pandemics. In Germany, the program is called Kurzarbeit, and it has been embraced since the 1950s. Now Covid-19 is pushing other European countries to look at Germany’s model for insight on reviving their economies.
Here are four things you can do to prepare for the future of work:
- Embrace AI. If it hasn’t already, artificial intelligence is likely coming to your industry. Get used to thinking of AI as a tool, not your replacement, and then you won’t become obsolete.
- Improve your video calls. More remote work means more video calls. Take these tips from a magician about how to improve communication in these meetings.
- Learn statistics. Interpreting data is an increasingly important skill for all types of workers. If you want to improve your number crunching, check out our guide on getting a grip on the pandemic data deluge.
- Take more breaks. Many jobs take a lot of creative problem-solving these days, and you need to get used to giving your brain a rest. If you can, you might try the Swedish tradition of fika, twice daily breaks from work over coffee and pastries.