brave new world

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Over the last month, wee Tom, has been wrestling with the decision of whether he should stay within his stable, long-term, relatively well-paid chosen career of teaching or strike-out on his Jack-Jones and place himself at the mercy of the booming gig economy. Having taken a somewhat similar decision thirty years ago, I’ve been able to see both sides and have voiced an opinion or two when asked, but it’s his shout: you pays your money, you takes your choice.

With the lowest unemployment rate since the early 70s you’d expect this age, often referred to by economists as the second machine age, to be job-buoyant and career-upbeat but, for the vast majority of the working population, it just ain’t the case. Underemployment (people who would like, and need, to work more) has surged and our ‘flexible’ labour market has led to a largely low-productivity, low-investment and low-wage economy. Flexibility, often portrayed as the self-employed limited-company contractor choosing when and where they work, is not the norm and over a million ‘zero-hour’ workers, attempting to scrape a living from the delivery of take-aways, brewing of coffee and sorting of parcels, await each day for a text or call to see if any such rewarding work is coming their way. Flexibility is an over-rated virtue and aspiration.

Witnessing the demise of the high street we are all well aware retail employment, which once accounted for almost 20% of UK workers, is rapidly changing from point of sale to click & collect or home delivery. Shop Direct and Amazon will out and even our perennial favourite, John Lewis, now utilises a vast fulfilment centre which employs 860 robots. Stats from a recent PricewaterhouseCoopers report predict that robots are coming to get a third of us and, with technology advancements in AI, if you’re an accountant, a financial advisor, middle-manager or project coordinator you’ve every right to feel a tad exposed. It’s now anticipated that across the whole of the UK economy and, over the next fifteen years, in excess of ten million jobs are at risk from automation. And let’s not think about the threat to the three million driving jobs created by driverless cars…

Aldous Huxley once spoke of a brave new world and, whilst Tom undoubtedly feels thus, he needs to be aware that the insurgents, disruptors and innovators of today’s tech world do not always represent a wholly positive trend. We’ve seen the future and the skills he needs when life changes are to keep learning, keep developing, keep growing and above all, keep trying. Keep at ‘em.