The world of work is changing and this is happening more rapidly than most of us can possibly imagine. For some, it is about not having time to take notice, for others the prospects are too alarming or irrelevant. For many, they simply don’t have access to the information.
As of June 2017, 49% of the world’s population still does not have internet access.
The next decade will bring a watershed of employment changes. We are on the cusp of the technological revolution. The massive investments already made in AI, Robotics and machine learning will start to pay real dividends in the next decade.
China alone in 2017 outlined its vision to be the world leader in AI by 2030. They are investing multi-billions to achieve this.
If history has taught us anything, for society to flourish, those benefits must be for the many, not just a few.
Jobs will be lost and created, however, there is no time to waste worrying about if robots or software programs are going to replace human workers—this will distract us. The priority must be to develop strategies and implement policies to help manage the transition of worker’s skills and importantly, their mental resilience.
This can’t be seen as some burdensome responsibility, but a mission by all stakeholders, governments, businesses, and individuals. Importantly it must include, not exclude the vulnerable.
In Australia, our most vulnerable have been male blue-collar workers. They were the first to lose their jobs when technological solutions become cheaper than their labour. There was little consideration given to transitioning of these workers into other jobs. The consequences for many of those men and their families were devastating.
Economist, Andrew Charlton, highlights the consequences of such ineptitude. His data states that:
Over the past 25 years, 1 in 10 men who lost their job due to big technological shifts never worked again. Today 4 out of 10 unskilled men don’t participate in the workforce.
Clearly managing the next transition is not going to be easy. According to a McKinsey report, worker transition is likely to be more difficult than in any other time in history. Underemployment is likely to rise in the short term. Wage growth will continue to decline and there will be an increased polarisation of the haves and the have-nots.
There is no universal answer about how every organisation or country needs to approach the transition. However, there is no doubt action is required now, and those actions must be carefully considered to ensure the most effective transition of worker’s skills.
India, for example, has 25 million low wage drivers. The technology may be available (and car manufacturers may lobby for an accelerated implementation) however if the government of India allowed rapid implementation of driverless vehicles, say at the same rate as China, the disruption may be devastating for that society.
To help manage this transition, Australia’s governments and businesses must invest in active and progressive labour market policies. It will not happen by osmosis. Time is pressing and there is no shame in taking other countries or companies progressive training policies and massaging them into our own.
Denmark’s government spends 1.7% of GDP on training.
Google has trained 3 million Europeans in digital skills
E-Bay has partnered with a city in Ohio to help to build small business capability.
We are being programmed to believe insecure labour—gig work—is the path to the future, with little, if any, debate. In reality the term, ‘gig economy’ only took hold after the 2008 GFC and yet, according to a 2017 McKinsey study, it is estimated 20 to 30% of US and European workforces are already engaged in the gig economy – this could reach 50%. Australia is trending the same way.
If this continues to become a reality, safety nets will be critical. Some are already being experimented with like, Universal Basic Income. Other support structures could include providing a secure electronic portable app. It would act like a secure electronic wallet that could transfer entitlements, yet to be agreed, and provide authorised qualifications.
Training is on everyone’s lips, however, the group of people who miss out on training opportunities are the ones employed in the gig economy. Even contractors who work for a company for a year are mostly not considered eligible for training. Companies and individuals in the future could be obliged to invest in on-going learning, this too could be captured in the electronic wallet.
There are so many opportunities to ensure an effective transition of worker’s skills and provide equality in our communities. However, it will require focused effort, collaboration and more importantly, passion to make it happen.
Someone famously said it is better to fix the roof while the sun is shining. 2018 is predicted to have synchronised world growth of 4%. Perhaps there is no better time than now, while the world is on an economic high, to invest in the future of workers.
The defining question many journalists ask politicians on any campaign trail is; ‘Do your policies pass the pub test?’
If a politician went to any pub in Australia, from inner city Melbourne to the back of Bourke, and they asked the people in that pub, this simple question—would Australian’s prefer reliable or less reliable employment—what do you think the answer would be?
It may be a no-brainer, people’s voices advocating reliable employment would drown out any dissenters. People want to know they can pay the mortgage with some certainty, as do the institutions lending them the money.
Irrespective, couching the future employment debate in terms of reliability of employment has almost no airplay. What politician would want to ask this question anyway?
In addition, Australians are already being groomed to believe the future is about flexible employment, self-employment and the gig economy. The future is being painted as a working environment where most people have a choice over when, and how they work, all aided by the marvels of technology.
Interestingly major financial institutions and insurance companies are rapidly developing products on the premise that incomes will become less reliable. Their research tells them; regular pay slips will not be able to be relied on for many credit scores.
For example, people who are denied access to the rental property market because they don’t get the required credit scores can, in South Australia, be helped into rental accommodation through a social score.
This is when a potential customer agrees to the company’s algorithm access all their social media accounts and emails so they can identify how reliable they are to pay.
Pray you haven’t been hacked.
Australian banks don’t currently provide loans based on social scores. They are however investigating social scores as a potential option for assessing financial risks. They, like many other financial institutions and insurance companies, have read the tea leaves. They realise many customers will have less reliable incomes; this will affect their business models.
For those who believe these types of products are created for only a small proportion of the population, it may be worth reviewing current data and world trends.
Demographer McCrindle states the gig economy, characterised by temporary jobs and part-time contracts, is growing at exceptional speed. The casual workforce now represents a fifth of the Australian workforce.
Interestingly the research highlights that 57% of workers in the current gig economy choose this option and are happy about it. On the flip side, 43% who are forced into this option are not happy campers.
What I am interested to know is how many people would make this choice if both partners had less reliable work, or were dependent only on themselves to provide their financial security?
Employers are increasingly working towards an on-demand and more flexible workforce as technologies evolve. Within the space of a decade the three traditional definitions of employment, full-time, part-time and casual employment has exploded into at least twenty new definitions which mostly reflect flexibility.
These include new employment terms like Zero hour contract. A type of contract between an employer and a worker, where the employer is not obliged to provide any minimum working hours, and the worker is not obliged to accept any work while under this contract. It is hard to comprehend such a contract could exist, or be enforced.
There is now a wide range of contractors including Project, Fixed Term and Temporary Contractors sourced individually, or through labour-hire companies or outsourced overseas.
Digital Platforms like those of Uber, Airbnb and Deliveroo linking suppliers with users in the sharing economy, have blasted onto the employment scene. The speed of change has been so fast it is hard to believe Uber only commenced in March 2009 and ‘Uber-isation’ is a word widely familiar in any pub.
There are many advantages in providing more flexible work arrangements, even if there are elements of insecurity, particularly in a prosperous economy. However, the current secure Australian also needs to clearly understand their personal vulnerabilities when weighing up their options, particularly as Australians are reported to have some of the highest personal debt levels in the world.
People working in this economy currently don’t get sick leave, holiday pay, redundancy or any kind of paternity leave. Some can be called into work, organising their life expecting a full day’s pay, only to be sent home within hours if there are no customers or clients.
People can be terminated with limited recourse because some employers are changing definitions of employment. Interestingly, the new terminology for getting fired on a digital platform is called being de-platformed.
In 2017 according to a recent article in The Conversation, around 100,000 workers in the gig today won’t have enough retirement savings and there is significant employer non-compliance in this area already, (this is due to the “confusion” over dependent or independent contractor status. As an independent contractor you are not eligible to receive super; what kind of contractor are you?)
This number, without thoughtful consideration and policy action, may rapidly escalate if the prediction of 40% of Australians participating in the gig economy by 2025 is realised. America is anticipated to reach this level by 2020.
Any Australian sitting in any pub would believe in a fair go for all Australians. Most of us still believe we are a lucky country and rightly so. However, for us to remain prosperous Australian’s living in our lucky country, we must remain diligent so our employment conditions, including reliability of income, passes the great Australian pub test.
Let’s cheers to that.
Related article survival kit
Liz, a friend of mine, is a single mother, who works hard to pay a mortgage and manage the upbringing and education of two teenage boys. To do this she held three diverse casual jobs; a shop assistant, house cleaner and aged carer. As a qualified pastry chef, she also made cakes for special occasions, in her spare time.
Not working, was not an option for Liz.
Liz is not of an unusual demographic. People working more than one job is not uncommon, nor is casual employment.
In the past two years, the number of people who say they worked two jobs jumped 36% to 600,000. The number who worked three jobs rocketed 50% to 52,000 and casual employees make up 22.6% of the workforce.
Life was manageable, until one day Liz was rushed to the hospital being diagnosed with a significantly sized brain aneurysm. That was the day Liz looked death in the mirror. Thankfully she survived thanks to her own grit and the miracle of modern medicine.
After time in the hospital and several procedures, the doctors explained she had to be off work for two months, not drive and the type of work she could do would be reassessed. Liz moved from the fear of losing her physical life to fear of possible financial peril.
Liz, like so many others in the gig and casualised economy, did not have the benefit of sick leave or secure employment. Some people would suggest it is a bed of their own making, particularly when we choose casual employment.
Research suggests 57% of people choose casual employment with the primary reason being for work-life balance.
I would suggest work-life balance for many is a family necessity. It is not about the picture of utopian life, sitting on a beach in front of a computer drinking tequilas. For most of us, particularly those in low skilled jobs, there is no choice but to work as a casual employee because this is the only option employers are offering.
A McKinsey study from last year estimated 20 to 30% of US and European workforces are already engaged in the gig economy; this could go to 50%.
For my friend, it was about making an income to pay the mortgage, providing for her children and being available for them as much as possible. This was especially important as a single mum bringing up boys. This often came with compromise working long hours or weekends to meet the costs of unexpected bills (like car breakdowns), or wanting to provide something special for her boys at Christmas.
Are you vulnerable?
Liz’s story reflects how many of us find ourselves in a vulnerable position as the gig economy grows. As work becomes less secure, it is more important than ever to have a survival plan in case of the unexpected.
Thankfully, Liz was prepared for an emergency as she understood her vulnerability. Often going without the little things, many of us take for granted she implemented the following to help prepare herself in case of the unexpected.
Every month, when it was possible, Liz paid more off her mortgage. She had made an arrangement with her bank so the extra money could either be used to pay her mortgage in case of an emergency or be paid out a little earlier. Smart move.
2 Financial advice.
Liz sought advice from a financial adviser about income and trauma insurance and took out cover which worked with her circumstances.
When Liz was unable to work, there was a waiting period for income insurance and Liz was not deemed sick enough for trauma insurance, so she investigated short term assistance from Centrelink.
What else could Liz do?
1 Check current legal entitlements. Staff who work in casual employment have recently won the right to request permanent employment if they work regular hours over a year. Employers can refuse the request on reasonable grounds. Permanent employees have entitlements casuals don’t, like sick leave.
2 Keep informed about potential changes in gig economy. Countries such as the United Kingdom are investigating legislative changes to protect workers from potential exploitation in the gig economy.
3 Understand superannuation entitlements.
4 Clarify need for worker’s compensation insurance.
Liz had a survival kit and was prepared – critical for those working in the gig economy.
As practical as all this is, every bit as important was the role Liz’s community played in helping her and her family during a horrendous time. And it was horrendous, Liz suffered a mini-stroke after a procedure, waking up in intensive care unable to speak for 24 hours. Can you imagine if you were Liz?
Liz’s family although there in spirit were not immediately available to help with practical things required due to illness and distance. This is not uncommon in our modern world. Liz’s community, however, provided meals, financial assistance, transport, lawn mowing, covered her shifts, and even gave her the contents of the tip jar and free meals at the local pub.
The lesson from this story is – any one of us could be Liz, any moment of any day. Hers is both a hopeful and a cautionary tale.
|Hopeful – you can take actions to prepare a survival kit in the gig economy|
|Cautionary – is your own survival kit ready yet?|
Life without the iPhone, I don’t think so. Platforms like Google, Apple Twitter and Facebook have revolutionised how we live and most of us love our technological devices and their benefits.
Massive profits from our investments help Tech giants increase their capability at lightning speed. One tech giant makes a billion dollars a month in profit alone! This success enables them to invest in more technological advances like artificial intelligence (AI).
It’s been exciting times. Yet our preoccupation with “what is”, has limited our ability to anticipate and manage the unintended technological consequences of “what may be”.
Could we have ever imagined our employment fate could be decided by a push of a button, by a potential employer looking at our social media pages, with not one word uttered?
Our world is becoming increasingly complex; businesses and governments can barely react to the technological changes – let alone consider consequences and be proactive.
As a society, however, we cannot use this as an excuse. It is more important than ever Tech companies, individuals, businesses and governments run this race together, pushing each to do their best to deliver benefits for everyone.
Let me explain why by using an analogy of “a race”
Let’s use the ride-sharing giant, Uber as an example.
It is a packed stadium with many onlookers, a race is underway with four runners.
Lane one is in the lead. Representing technology companies who are setting a fast pace. In front is, Uber, thumbing their nose and so far, winning the race.
The next lane is the individual – a representative of you and me. We race to catch up, and quickly adapt to the ride sharing service. In fact, the number of Uber drivers has already reached 72,000 in Australia.
The third lane is business, slower again. The taxi business hit hard by Uber technology; taken by surprise by the first and second runners and are scrambling to adjust.
In last place is the government who must reconsider how the whole legislative system works with taxi plates, safety and taxation. A difficult challenge particularly when they are already at the back of the pack.
The good news is some governments around the world, are taking different approaches to the race. Some are more strategic than others exploring different options, investing resources, determined to maintain the powerful role of government.
How does the analogy of “the race” apply to discrimination?
The 1991 Antidiscrimination Act says we are unable to discriminate across 14 categories, including gender, race age or parental responsibilities.
Look at the potential impact of photo and facial recognition technology.
In first place. Tech companies revolutionise facial recognition programs. This is now a 3-billion-dollar market in the US alone with an error rate of only .8%
Second place – individuals, at least for now. We take photos and put them on all over social media platforms. Freely agreeing access from biotechnologies, pacing ourselves with lane one.
Running third is business. They may see the benefits of accessing employee photos on social media or participating in facial recognition technology. Starting to sprint, they may not see the hurdles discrimination puts in front of them.
In fourth place, again is the legislative process. What type of anti-discrimination legislation is now required to manage the impact of photos and facial recognition?
There are now so many grey areas to contemplate. What happens if a rejected employee claims discrimination based on their belief the employer accessed their social media pages and made judgements about them, particularly when they asked to do so?
Combine this with more technological obstacles and legislation may fall further behind. Consider the impact of an app called FIND FACE which takes a photo of someone and uses it to find their social media account and algorithms which filter job applications for specific aspects, for example, ethnicity and signs of intelligence and sexuality.
What can each runner do to provide the best outcome for themselves and society which the crowd represents?
The best race is one where the field is tight with each runner at their peak. It helps to bring out the best performances and provides the most engagement from the crowds.
Technology is moving fast; it will not slow down. However, technology companies need to invest more of their resources in understanding the unintended consequences of the failures in the other lanes. There may be no race to run if there are no competitors nor any crowds to buy the tickets.
As responsible citizens, it is up to us to put pressure on the other lanes to perform and challenge themselves. We must keep informed, engage in the public debates and reduce obstacles within our control. This may involve managing social media posts which could negatively impact on future job opportunities.
Businesses must invest in keeping fit, invest in resources to educate themselves, generate relevant policies, and anticipate obstacles. They must up their game to tighten the race.
Lane one is driving immense social and economic change and it’s time for governments to proactively help shape that future as fast as they can. To do this they must be well informed, engage in relevant strategies and provide superior resources enabling them to be fit for their role in the race.
As Elon Musk a leader of Lane one said:
“Governments must be proactive, not reactive on the regulation of AI. By the time we are reactive in AI. It will be too late.”
If this happens the metaphorical race will be over. The runner’s choice.
Algorithms and machine learning are often applying the same bias and prejudices that humans show, however many people are failing to notice as their attention is elsewhere.
Today’s priority can become yesterday’s issue with simply a new line of code. By the time people notice, the game may be over. Even if someone wanted to correct the system, biases may become so buried they are almost invisible and hard to detect.
An example of this is many organisations spend time, money and energy assisting people to recognise unconscious bias in the workplace through webinars and workshops. This is almost a yesterday’s solution when algorithms are making employment decisions written by predominately young male developers. It is this group, which may not even be employed directly by the company that can transfer their unconscious biases to the algorithm. This is today’s reality.
A sentencing algorithm created in America highlights this. It predicted which people would re-offend after an initial crime. The algorithm falsely said black offenders would offend twice as often as white offenders. The people who were creating the algorithm was predominately white males.
Developers may also be directed to create algorithms that meet specific company requirements which may be biased. If this practice exists, algorithms may be considered trade secrets and are not required to be divulged.
In California, a person was jailed for life based on a piece of software that relied on DNA traces from a crime scene. When the defence asked to see the source code of the algorithm it was denied because it was called a trade secret.
If anyone was convicted of a crime by the information provided by an algorithm, wouldn’t it be their human right to know how the decision was made? Apparently not yet.
Organisations must take notice of the emerging issues with the use of algorithms. Where possible, the methodology used must be visible and transparent. What is the alternative?
Although algorithms are becoming more sophisticated they are not the Holy Grail. Many capable people will simply not fit the algorithm irrespective of bias. Though underestimating the speed at which algorithms are evolving would not be wise. It is espoused that they can detect gender and race by scanning a resume with an 88% accuracy.
In Australia, today it is not possible for an applicant to challenge an algorithm’s decision about the suitability of their application. The process prevents this. The applicant submits their CV online, they subsequently receive an anonymous computer generated an acknowledgement.
If unsuccessful they get another computer-generated response giving no real reason. The whole process is invisible to the applicant and leaves only the applicant’s imagination to understand why.
Even without intent, if the process itself not managed properly may entrench a range of inequalities as previous examples demonstrate. This is very thing many institutions have spent years trying to avoid.
It is easy to imagine that an algorithm may be coded to a specific group. Like an expert from a specific school or country within a certain age bracket. It is not beyond the realms of possibility, particularly if it is a trade secret and there are no rights of appeal.
This scenario helps breed inequality and if history has taught us anything, inequality sews the seeds of societal discontent, often with catastrophic consequences.
As priority decisions made by algorithms must become more visible for both practical and ethical reasons. Imagine if technology could tell the applicant applying for the job, why they did not get it, how the decision was made, and what they could do to increase their opportunities. The impact could be positive for the company’s brand and its ethical approach may help attract talent to their business.
Countries like Germany have created guidelines which provide algorithm visibility. They state that “if an accident is unavoidable the self-driving car must not make any choices over who to save. No decisions should be made on age, sex, race, disabilities, and so on; all human lives matter”.
Statesmen like cosmologist Stephen Hawking and Tesla CEO Elon Musk have endorsed a set of principles that reinforce the importance of transparency to ensure that self-thinking machines remain safe and act in humanity’s best interests.
Not every leader has the knowledge available to them that some countries or technologists do. However, today’s leaders have a responsibility to be informed and have enough knowledge to ask the probing and ethical questions. Otherwise, they will be implementing yesterday’s solutions.
The relationship with technology and bias is only one of the complex ethical issues that are facing society today. It becomes even more complex if the system is invisible to the people using it or being affected by it. The power cannot lie solely with the algorithm. Today’s mantra must be algorithm transparency.
The technological revolution is speeding up. By 2030 the consequences of this disruption will make the world we live in and the jobs we perform almost unrecognisable.
Look beyond the driverless automobile and consider the impact of 1 billion working drones.
Preparation is required to skill, reskill and upskill Australians to meet the opportunities and challenges the revolution will deliver.
I often catch public transport around cities to meet with various clients. Recently as I sat gazing out the window, I realised that there was a growing disconnect about what I was observing and the economic information that I had been gathering.
The cities were vibrant. There appeared no expense on developing skyscrapers, apartment complexes, and supporting infrastructures. People appeared busy, dressed in reasonable clothes, drinking plenty of coffee, talking in cafes and lunching in restaurants.
These observations were similar, but obviously different in my own local community.
What played on my mind was how can there be such an appearance of affluence when economic data was indicating that many Australians financial positions were deteriorating?
The data indicated that Australian households has one of the highest level of debt in the world. Admittedly much of the debt is considered good debt because it has the potential for income generation.
You are fifty something and you are advised that your services are no longer required by an almost faceless being. Your gut is in a knot and you can hardly breathe…the first thought is financial…your second thought is… what the hell do I do know?
Everyone knows how difficult it is to get another job. You sit trapped in the chair as you listen through a fog of redundancy rhetoric. Phrases like: “This is an opportunity for a new start” “You have two days of outplacement to help you write your CV”. It feels like the words roll off a faceless cold mechanical tongue, reading cold mechanical scripts in a sculptured body devoid of compassion. Perhaps it feels like that because in that moment, everyone is dealing with the discomfort, by dissociating from each other.
I was asked to deliver of Future of Work series with Annie Gaffney on ABC radio.
It was over a period of three months during 2017.
This is an outline of the final session
The population is growing, less people are dying, jobs are changing from full time to contract and at the same time more machines are doing both mind and muscle work… and of course technology is speeding up.
Historically Human Resources (HR) has had limited opportunity to set the people management agenda. It is a function that has primarily prospered when the economy, or an industry sector is booming and obtaining and attracting staff is a priority. HR’s subsequent value often regresses in economic downturns, when labor becomes more abundant.
The modern-day example is the growth in the technology sector, and its requirements for talent.
“Tech companies such as Google, Microsoft, and Apple are now on the front lines of HR innovation, largely because they have an acute need for specialized talent. Human capital is practically their only major asset; talent is in short supply; and competitors are eager to lure employees away”. HBR
HR’s historical fluctuating value, has an opportunity to reposition itself, as a critical strategic function with the ongoing development of People Analytics. This methodology has primarily evolved along with the rise of the Tech industry.