When I ask my colleagues and associates about the future of work, their immediate response is to query what this means. Is it the change in employer-employee relationships and day-to-day working arrangements as a result of Covid; or is this a philosophical question such as ‘what is the purpose of work’; or is it about changes in roles and working practices due to the new technological age? In a post-Covid, post-Brexit age where digital technologies are transforming how we work, it is all of these.
"Whilst the Covid pandemic was not the catalyst, it accelerated the change from a service based to digital economy and agile and adaptable industries flourished whilst others declined."
Employer / employee
Due to the Pandemic, the UK Jobs market experienced its largest fall in employment in over 30 years but as the Covid-19 vaccination programme rolled out, employer optimism returned. Employers, who put recruiting on hold during the pandemic, are now competing head-to-head for skilled talent in a finite and limited market.
Covid and its impact changed employer-employee relationships; developments which might have taken years to materialise occurred overnight. It changed the way we work and think and created opportunities for some organisations (such as the packaging, warehousing and logistics industries) but significant problems for others (witness the demise of household names such as Jessops, Paperchase and Debenhams).
For job seekers, it has become a buyers’ market, at least for the next 12 – 18 months; job seekers and employees now have choice and are in a strong position to negotiate enhanced salaries, better work-life arrangements and other benefits. Who would have predicted a candidate driven market just a year ago?
The purpose of work
The employment market has seen dramatic changes in the past decade. Against the backdrop of Brexit, there are now fewer workers entering the UK from Europe and a shortage of HGV vehicle drivers is partly blamed on this. At the same time, there has been a sharper focus on diversity and inclusivity in the workplace as employers recognise the value and strengths of individuals and what they deliver, different mind-sets, training and ways of thinking.
The introduction of Artificial Intelligence, automation and the Internet of Things (IoT) now enables remote working and provides us with far greater mobility than ever before. There are advantages as well as disadvantages to this as more experienced workers relish the freedom it brings, but with younger workers potentially missing out on mentoring opportunities in the workplace and fewer opportunities to socialise with colleagues after work.
But as we move into the digital age of automation with the prospect of large numbers of people ‘not employed’ the philosophical question becomes ever more important.
We are just at the beginning of the change from a serviced based to a digital economy and who knows where a digital based economy with AI, IoT, superfast computers, and automation will eventually lead? Whilst time and intellectual property have a value, human factors, such as a feeling of purpose and fulfilment, and a feeling of worth, cannot be ignored. Robotics may make us redundant, but we still need purpose and meaning in our lives and work provides this.
Impact of the digital age
Society began to move from a manufacturing to a service-based economy after the Second World War. Now services account for 69% of total world GDP and in high income countries such as the UK, services, on average, account for 74% of GDP.
Whilst the change to a digital economy is taking place at an eye watering pace we are still only at the beginning of a transformational journey, and as such, it's not possible to predict where it will lead. But digital won’t solve some of the important issues for mankind such as scarcity of resources, water, food, mineral resources, and climate change.
During the Pandemic, most organisations changed to a wholly digital way of working enabling us to access information and opportunities from anywhere in the world. By working remotely, job seekers are now no longer constrained by geography and can apply for jobs over a far wider area.
However, Covid is not the cause of change, which was taking place anyway, but it has accelerated it. Western democratic capitalist principles are now under threat. The Middle Eastern model of authoritarian rule with capitalist principles, is increasingly apparent in large states like China, Russia and India. Whilst China has a strategic focus, the West has become more fragmented (Brexit) and whilst it is focussed on woke and carbon neutral issues (not a great outcome for oil rich ME states and Russia who can be expected to develop protectionist policies), social equality, AI and automation will take over.
How does this impact the job seeker?
There are jobs today which will no longer exist in 5 to 10 years’ time (door-to-door salesmen and travel agents are obvious examples), but there are numerous future opportunities that may not even be apparent today (in health and pharma, and in digital industries such as AaaS Automation-as-a-service and Cloud technology).
Despite the Pandemic set-back some sectors are performing well, IT, Financial & Professional Services, pharma, and logistics and warehouse due to the rise in online shopping. But the UK still has critical skills shortages in key sectors such as construction, manufacturing and digital.
Whilst the Covid pandemic was not the catalyst, it accelerated the change from a service based to digital economy and agile and adaptable industries flourished whilst others declined. Some work opportunities today may not exist in 10 years’ time while new opportunities for job seekers will arise. Successful job seekers will be those who can respond quickly to change and gain the skills which might otherwise have not been thought necessary, whilst soft skills like management and planning remain highly valued.
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