And how it’s only just begun.
Nearly a decade ago I awoke from my slumber. I was in a toxic business partnership and badly needed to change directions. So I pulled up my trousers, and went back to school. Colliding with a bunch of kooky creatives, I’ve since made a life of work that I love.
Along the ride, I keep attracting (or more likely seeking out) others who love what they do. I’m electrified every time I ask one of these elated souls, “What are you working on?”. The words flow so fast, their mouths struggle to keep up. It’s evident that for this lot , the distinction between work and life doesn’t exist.
Yet I appreciated that, like me, these folks were anomalies. The majority of the working world (87% to be exact) simply isn’t engaged in their work. While many actually dread it, hundreds of millions of others don’t even have work to complain about. If this is the current state of play in our world, what might the future hold? I don’t really know. But I do have some ideas. Lots of them actually (and I have even more questions).
Here’s what I can serve up for now:
- Today, the richest 62 people in the world have the same wealth as 50 percent of the entire world’s population.
- In 7 years, millennials will make up 75 percent of the world’s workforce.
- In 9 years, freelance workers will make up more than 50 percent of the American workforce.
- In 12 years, people living in developing nations will account for 85 percent of the world’s population. (Yes, you read that right).
We are on-course for massive unemployment (as well as underemployment) like we’ve never seen before. Many leading thinkers call this scenario post-work. It’s a world without the traditional jobs as we know them. And there is very likely some form of universal basic income (UBI) required to help supplement those working as well as those not working.
The issues are rooted in a compound of inevitable realities: The continuing disparity divide, a shortage of workers for growing occupations, a widening skills gap for job categories yet to exist, algorithms and automation that keep eating the world, and a new generation of workers desperate to find meaning in work.
These are just some of the issues as likely to be overheard at the World Economic Forum as they are at your local college campus. So, how do we start to address these concerns and step outside our reality distortion field? I think one place to start is with a public discourse around values, intelligence, and work itself.
It’s not that a Gen X-er like me, nor an “entitled millennial generation” suddenly resolved to find purpose in their work. Finding meaning in work is a deep-seated human impulse, but something so often absent from the traditional workplace.
I recently asked the president of the New America Foundation, Anne-Marie Slaughter, about the importance of finding meaning in work and how it could help build a more resilient society. She believes that deriving purpose in work is vital. The truth, however, is that many Americans just want the reassurance of a regular paycheck. Herein lies the problem. Until the turn of the century, craving stability of income made sense. But the safety a job might yield today is a myth.
The members of the emerging workforce yearn to have their values and purpose aligned with the work they do. It’s a big reason why so many are striking out on their own. And several pioneering organizations are also taking note. These companies are going the extra mile by catering to, and evolving with, the ambitions of their workers. Call it a “retention strategy”, “employer branding”, or what you will — I call it good business.
In developing countries, many people don’t and won’t have the luxury of finding meaning in work. While some may learn to turn the job they have into one they love, the stark reality is that many won’t have any work at all. Slaughter explained that for UBI schemes to fly, they must function as a support mechanism that is intrinsically tied to work. Already the schemes piloted around the world are proving promising. In Kenya, one crafty recipient took his stipend and invested in a motorbike to provide taxi rides. He then set up a small soap business. And then a barbershop (you get the picture). The potential for a vibrant ecosystem of micro-entrepreneurs in developing nations is real. Most notably, these innovative schemes could enable dependent countries to be increasingly self sustaining. Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg in tackling the myriad of issues at play — but it’s a start.
Automation has always killed jobs just as it has created new ones. The issue is that when algorithms replace the jobs of some folks, these displaced workers are often unable to maneuver into the newly designed ones. One Silicon Valley tech worker I interviewed remarked, “I can’t imagine what people will go to college for in 20 years’ time.” I’ve heard similar echoes from academics, entrepreneurs, parents, and peers. We also still tend to think of intelligence as a single dimension.