The future of Unemployment

The future of Unemployment

As Bob Dylan attests in his infamous song ‘The Times They Are A Changin’. Globally the nature of employment is shifting. As baby-boomers retire, so does the philosophy of ‘a career for life’. Baby-boomers historically left school and entered the workforce. Few opted for career changes, with many working for just one or two employers their whole lives. Career paths were well-structured, with promotions assured and regular working hours.

With no smart phones in existence, work stayed at work. Globalisation, advances in technology and changes in economic conditions have changed this landscape irrevocably.

Our Jobs Are Not Coming Back!

Jane Gilmore, freelance writer for news.com, recently published a brilliant article titled ‘The inconceivable truth: our jobs are not coming back’. In it she refers to research from the Committee for Economic Development of Australia which report that

“40% of Australian jobs that exist today have a moderate to high likelihood of disappearing in the next 10 to 15 years”.

It is not only unskilled jobs that we will lose.

Gilmore reports:

‘Millions of jobs are about to disappear, and we have no idea how to replace them…. And not only are they not coming back, millions more are going to go in the next few years.

Why Are We Losing Jobs?

The answer to this question whilst by no means simple is certainly influenced by a number of factors. Three we perceive influential are globalisation, advances in technology and changes in economic conditions.


Globalisation, increased access to information and technological advancements mean that business can be conducted anywhere, anytime; not necessarily by a human. Robotic functions are fast replacing what is perceived as expensive, inefficient and error filled human labour. Drones and driverless vehicles will see people employed to drive taxis, delivery vehicles and trains, made redundant. Pharmacists have already been replaced by robots to fill prescriptions at the University of California San Francisco Medical Center.

Advances in Technology

With the robots error rate close to zero and a human error rate of 2.8 the machine proved itself as a justifiable replacement.

Whilst not all machines are designed to replace humans, there are functions that deliver service more consistently than their human counterpart. With human beings so adaptable; we are fast learning to integrate robotic functions into our everyday life: smartphones, ATM’s, paypass, and self-checkouts we now consider necessities. A well-educated consumer less willing to pay for errors or a bad experience, is driving our tolerance and acceptance of robotic technologies

Changing economic conditions

The problem becomes if machines replace humans, how do humans obtain money to live? It is this question which poses the challenge for current economists. Tim Dunlop in his book ‘Why the Future is Workless’ presented one strategy: the corporations who own the robots give the money to the governments to distribute to the population so they can pay for the goods and services produced. This transformational change in mindset will see the end of our working lives as we know it.

What Can We Do About It?

One option is to take your current skill set, add to it and refine it so you can sell your specialist capabilities to companies without the middleman (your employer). If they can charge for your time and build a business around your work – so can you! People will tell you that you’re being brave – leaving the “safety” of employment. But as we have discussed, there’s no certainty in having a regular job. Ask the miners!

There are challenges to achieving this, and the lifestyle certainly isn’t for everyone (definitely not your leave on the dot clock-watchers, who are not willing to work weekends) but for the right personality in the right set up, the world is your oyster.

Certain industries have been embracing independent workers for years. Look at the accountants, mortgage brokers, bookkeepers and real estate agents you know – a lot of them work for themselves. The same with many tradesmen!

So what are the benefits? Work/life balance features at the top. Sure, you might lose your weekends. Maybe not all of them, but it will happen. The upside, you work when it’s convenient for you (and your clients), in whichever attire you prefer, in whatever location, with the music of your choice to inspire you. Freedom and the opportunity to work at what you love, fast outweighs any inconvenience of a lazy weekend.

The future of the workforce (often termed the “Gig Economy”) is remote, contracted, and varied. You need some work done, you call contractor/consultant/freelancer/own boss and they do it for you at an agreed rate. No HR nightmares, no learning curve challenges, no personality clashes with your current team, just the job done by a professional and everybody moves on…until the next ‘Gig’. If you do great work they use you again, and tell their peers, and so the circle begins.

Your potential to earn is maximised; you’re not spending all day at a job that might only have 3 productive hours. You work those 3 hours and you have the rest of the day to do other work for other clients or lifestyle priorities.

But you need a good skill set!

To establish yourself as an independent worker you will need a good skill set; a skill set that people are willing to pay for. Soft skills become crucial; the ability to adapt, remain flexible and self-sufficient. A little business know-how (taxes and licensing regulations can get tricky) won’t hurt and you’ll need to be able to sell yourself at times. It also helps to be qualified, since the people hiring you don’t necessarily know you. Letters after your name or a formal industry certification go a long way in assuring you credibility.

You’ll need to make sure you’re abreast of trends in your industry, as being “out of the loop” happens easily when you are no longer part of a team. Regular training and adding complementary skills to your toolbox will definitely hold you in good stead.

Independent workers; the way forward

Jacques Bughin, Director of the McKinsey Global Institute, surmises that independent workers are the way forward. ‘working full-time for a single employer is no longer the norm in advanced economies.’ Employees once hired for life are now hired for their immediate capabilities; giving rise to the independent worker working in the ‘Gig Economy’. Many employers are no longer focused on hiring for the future and for many employees the days of stable employment are over.

Don’t Be A Rhinoceros, Be A Gazelle!

The key to job survival definitely lies in being adaptable and agile; you need to move like a gazelle and definitely not a rhinoceros. With a job security no longer guaranteed, you have to ensure you remain in pole position. Continuously upskilling and remaining current becomes crucial. Employers will be looking for people who are curious, bring required talents, and build on organisational capabilities.

Frankly put, there is no room for a large heavy creatures who take effort and energy to adapt.

I co-write this article with the wonderful M.J. from Scope Vision. It was originally published on her blog.