PoliticsPublic Policy

The Future of Work

One of the most trending issue in the last few years is on the future of work.

How will the nature of work change in the coming years? Already, we are seeing many adjustments being made to the workplace; more however is to come. New jobs are being created while old jobs faded to the background. Also, work is no longer confined to particular space and time. You can do work anywhere and at any time of the day. There are also new types of work that were unthinkable just ten years ago. For today’s workforce jobs like content providers, mobile application providers, cloud architect, social media manager, podcast producer are some of the new job possibilities. Uber, Grab and other applications that are riding on the idea of a shared economy have churned new industries and jobs that were unheard of few years ago.

Indeed, technology and innovation have made the world of work increasingly fluid. There are more changes to come. It is projected that come the year 2030, for about 60 percent of present set of occupation, a third of the components of these jobs would be automated.

Put differently, future jobs require less of the hand but more of the head and the heart. The workplace of tomorrow requires people with cognitive, communication as well as collaborative skills. Humans will still be at the centre of the workplace but limited to those with the skills to leverage on technology and incessant innovation. Jobs of the future require organisation and management skills. Though we might be greeted one day with driverless and fully automated buses and cars such services would require new set of skills to handle a highly sophisticated transportation system.

Governments are anticipating changes in the workplace. But states are preparing for the future of work with varying degrees of intensity. Advanced economies are at the forefront of the discussion on the future of work. Others however are slower at responding to this changing environment. What can countries do to prepare for changes in the world of work?

One way is to evaluate current jobs, for instance, filtering out jobs that require human skills from the ones that can be automated. The purpose of doing this is to identify early the nature of jobs in the economy and to make necessary changes by tweaking policies to avoid possible economic stagnation. The changes could come in the form of tweaking labour, immigration, education or industrialisation policies that deal with potential structural changes in the economy.

States should also develop a workforce with the necessary skills to prepare them for the anticipated changes in the workplace. To reduce future problem of job redundancies, states can carry out reskilling, retraining or redeploying the workforce. Indeed, states that take proactive steps in anticipating changes in the workplace will stand to avoid huge costs especially when it comes to issues of structural unemployment that, if not addressed, can have political, economic and social ramifications.

States should also harness data mining capabilities to track changes in current work environment. Data, be they qualitative and quantitative, are important tools to trace current trends and anticipate future policy changes. Harnessing the data can make for more optimal decision for instance when it comes to redesigning changes in the workplace be it in the public or private sector.

But without doubt, the best way to prepare people for changes in the workplace is for states to invest heavily in education. There is a need to rethink on the skills that students need to navigate rapid changes. The future of work demands that the best way to prepare the young is to impart them with skills that encourage independent and creative thinking, communication and language skills – skills that prepare them to be adaptable to rapid changes. Instructions in school should not be loaded with just subject content but with learning skills that are geared toward enhancing future capabilities. The workforce of tomorrow need to be curious, creative, experimental, adaptable and with the capacity for life-long learning. Schools should focus on these enduring qualities, qualities that would allow the individual to best respond to the many shocks that he would encounter throughout his work life.

Public policy – wise, there are countries who have been very quick to anticipate these changes to the workplace and are making necessary policy adjustments . There are also countries who are slower to prepare its workforce. This varying responses can have huge development impact. If we are seeing huge gap in income between countries, such gap could grow wider as a result of state’s differing policy responses to the future of work. .

The future of work should be high in the list of state’s priorities. It is unfortunate that many developing countries are still mired with domestic political and social squabbles. These countries risked being left behind further by countries who are already making plans for changes in the workplace.

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