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No Single Future of Work

Hands holding money

There is no single future of work. The only more certain thing is that all work will change, hours, terms, tools, colleagues, coffee and hopefully the commute.

Today all the buzz is about Uber, Upwork, AirBnB and anything with a blockchain or is sharing something. In my earlier life I worked for Microsoft and when I told people who I worked for, they had never heard of it, yet we all believed we were changing the world just like the millennials of today. The big difference is the buzz around the importance of technology and the changing work place.

A recent report from Australia focuses on Uber’s rapid growth as it becomes the cheerleader for the growth in the freelancer or gig economy. This new economy is being touted as giving people all the flexibility they want with the ability to work. The freelancer economy is where people perform work on an irregular, on-demand basis, paid by the task, and without the stability or security of traditional paid employment.

As this model has grown globally and especially in the conservative labour law based western economies, the freelancer model is raising concerns about the erosion of labour standards, minimum wages, paid leave, wait time, maternity and other benefits.

The report uses simulations and shows that typical Uber drivers earn much less than would be required under relevant minimum wage standards in Australia.

The report highlights that the headline rates are soon cut down by all the deductions bringing the overall income levels down. This is the problem with many of the freelancer and sharing economy jobs, however the flip side of the value, flexibility, is often not added back. The fact that people can and do have more than one stream of income allows overall a very flexible way to build up good income levels. However the report shows that these workers end up earning less than the minimum wage of a country and states that this is a ‘subsidy’ and this has allowed for Uber and other companies, rapid expansion.

The arguments miss the benefits of what these companies have brought and the technology has enabled. From the best education being available to ‘anyone’ (internet being available) in the world to enabling a new arrival in a strange new city being able to actually get a job that starts them on an employment journey.

These benefits will become more critical, especially in the countries where there is a growing number of people entering the workforce at the same time as when automation is becoming a stark reality.

Approximately 300 million people will be entering the workforce in the next 10 years, a third of those from India. This requires not only skills acquisition but in a form of experiential learning which makes those skills applicable on the job from day 1.

The ability to find and build income through new platforms, have access to build new skills and to grow skills are all key to building a new partnership with technology, allowing individuals to have flexible work patterns – which leads us to the growth of an open relationship between universities, technology and industry partners. The future of work is flexible, adaptable and changing.