Casualisation shifts onus for career planning to individuals
February 14, 2015
Technology can be expected to take over many of the knowledge-intensive jobs traditionally done by humans.
Technology can be expected to take over many of the knowledge-intensive jobs traditionally done by humans. Photo: Jamie Brown
In part two of this three-part series of articles Rob Livingstone explores why building career resilience is increasingly important for knowledge and skill-intensive careers. In Part 1 ,
Rob discussed the forces reshaping the employment landscape.
Knowledge is increasingly surpassing the tangible resources as the basis for value creation and competitive advantage for both economies and organisations.
Over half of the gross domestic product (GDP) in many developed economies is based on intangible resources. These intangible resources underpin and generate most of the value in knowledge-
intensive industries which form a key element of what economists call the services sector. This sector comprises a significant part of many developed countries’ national economies. Examples
include Australia’s services sector comprising 71 per cent of GDP, United States and the UK both 79 per cent, Japan 73 per cent, Singapore 75 per cent and New Zealand’s 71 per cent.
This services sector contains the lion’s share of “knowledge” workers and professionals. Included in this sector are individuals whose careers include accounting, law, engineering, sales, marketing,
media, architecture through to medical diagnostics and finance. These and many other professions are increasingly at risk of being affectedby technology.
HAL: I’m sorry, Dave, I’m afraid I CAN do that
The human-like computer HAL portrayed in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey is now a reality. With the advent of the latest generation of powerful digital technologies including Big Data, expert
systems and mobile devices, the computerisation of non-routine cognitive tasks can be the game changer for those whose jobs depend on specialised, knowledge-intensive skills.
Oxford University researchers have recently suggested that in certain instances, the computerised results of complex non-routine cognitive tasks are superior to the human “expert” as they do not have human biases.
They also suggest that given the rapid rate of technological evolution, sophisticated digital technologies supported by algorithms could substitute for about 140 million full-time knowledge workers
worldwide. Unlike people, technology is rapidly scalable at low marginal cost, and that can be the game changer for those whose careers are most at risk of disruption.
The bottom line is that computers will increasingly be challenging human labour in a wide range of cognitive tasks.
The career resilience challenge
Among this high rate of technology-driven innovation, how can you develop a meaningful career where the value of your knowledge, skills and expertise
(and hence your ability to earn a good income) is not diluted by:
· Being embedded in a commoditised technology that almost anyone can use. Driverless vehicles are no longer science fiction as evidenced in the mining industry.
· Becoming outdated. An example is a software programmer whose primary skills are based on a technology that may be superseded in five years.
· Outsourced to highly proficient and skilled organisations, be they down the road or overseas, thanks to the ability to communicate over the internet.
The key is to ensure you are aware of the forces at play in environments that are likely to affect your current and future career options and chosen career direction. The challenge, however,
is that many environments are interconnected to varying degrees, and a change in one may or may not have a profound impact on another.
The assumption, however, that your past and current skills are going to continue to be of equivalent value in the future, may or may not remain valid.
Contract, casual, part-time? Do you want fries with that?
Conventional economic theory suggests that the casualisation of the workforce leads to a flexible workforce which contributes to an efficient economy by allowing the supply of labour to closely
match the demand for that labour. It seems Australia is well down that path in the employment stakes.
About one-third of all Australian jobs are part-time – an all-time record high. Additionally Australia has one of the highest proportions of part-time, contract and casual employees in the OECD.
This progressive shift from largely, full-time employment to contract,
casual or part-time employment models for many people is further shifting the onus of responsibility for their careers to the individual.
This shift away from the permanent employment model presents both risks and opportunities for both employees and individuals:
· For employers focusing on their short-term costs, are able to lower the total cost of labour by transforming the comparatively fixed cost of full-time employees to variable costs by growing or
shrinking the labour force to meet the ebb and flow of demands. Astute employers that can balance the short-term need for cost control through casualisation yet manage the corrosive effects of
poor staff engagement, commitment and the erosion of the organisation’s social and knowledge capital will be the winners.
· For individuals, who are able to move away from the full-time employment model, are able to operate with maximum flexibility. They join the ranks of the workplace mercenaries where, for
example, the attraction of either the highest bidder or the appeal of the work or both trumps concerns over the long-term success of the organisation.
The bottom line is that the compounding influences of the prevailing state of the economy, globalisation and technology-led disruption are reshaping the traditional model of “employment”.
This change presents both risks and opportunities to employees.
Anticipating and mitigating the risks while being able to capitalise on opportunities lies at the heart of maintaining a career that is valuable and resilient.