With mouth gaping, it waited. Patient, coy, blending seamlessly into the decor. A predator aptly fit for the terrain. Agile and deceptively cunning it had shown itself to me before. It was capable of heroic action but was unstable, even volatile. I’d been here before, most often with no thought of precaution. But now I hesitate, ever so slightly, it seems to sense my presence. A subtle sensation, an almost undetectable shutter. Then rapid movement! Someone rushes past me, entering the ominous cavity and turns to face me. “Are these darn elevators working this morning?”
Don’t you find it interesting how so many things we take for granted can be the very things that cause us consternation? Elevators, after all, are such convenient things. You walk in, press a button, you walk off. What could be simpler? But if you’ve ever had the experience of being stuck in one between floors or had one malfunction during your ride or had to wait longer than desired for it to arrive, you know how quickly convenience turns to annoyance. For many, today's changes in the workforce are much like my relationship with the elevator. They are not quite sure what to expect and are frustrated because they don’t know what’s happening.
Today’s world of work has been impacted by technology. Work is different than it was twenty, ten or even five years ago. Digital advances and expectations from a new generation of workers have shifted the way we produce and collaborate, transforming the workplace and with it, our lives. The work landscape is rapidly changing. A new generation of workers is beginning to fill the labor force. A generation born into the age of technology and challenging conventional ideas of work. The new workforce does not wear its technology like the old one, it lives it. Technology is part of who they are. They choose to work from anywhere at any time and they don’t prefer the uniformity of the old work style and the old work place.
Development in automation like artificial intelligence and machine intelligence are contributing to productivity, efficiency, safety, and convenience but are also having an impact on jobs, skills, wages, and the nature of work. The “undiscovered country” of the workplace today is the combination of the changing landscape of work itself and the availability of ill-fitting tools, platforms, and knowledge to train for the requirements, skills, and structure of this new age. Labour market opportunities are becoming polarised between high-end and low-end skilled jobs. Migration and its effects on jobs have become a sensitive political issue. From Buffalo to Beijing public debates are raging about the future of work.
More people are working for themselves.
Entrepreneurship is hot. Websites that match employers with freelancers are growing fast – and so is the potential for lower wages and inequality. In the past decade cloud computing has radically altered the way we work, but it’s the growth of the “human cloud” – a vast global pool of freelancers who are available to work on demand from remote locations on a mind-boggling array of digital tasks – which is really set to shake up the world of work. Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, which lays claim to 500,000 “turkers” from 190 countries at any given time, and Upwork, which estimates that it has 10 million freelancers from 180 countries on its database are emblematic of the entrepreneurial spirit. They compete for approximately 3 million tasks or projects each year (and growing), which can range from tagging photos to writing code. [i]
So here we stand in front of the workforce elevator with an interesting mix of anxiety and anticipation. The choice before us is to get on and enjoy the ride or take the stairs and miss the bus.
[i] Killian Fox , Joanne O'Connor, The future of work ,Five ways work will change in the future, The Guardian, Sunday 29 November 2015, https://www.theguardian.com/society/series/the-future-of-work