Government regulations will continue to play a crucial role in building an enabling environment for the intersection of free-market jobs and technology.
Technological advancements in tandem with globalisation and demographic shifts are radically transforming the fundamental nature of work, workspaces, employment relations, production processes, rights and governance. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), in two years, nearly half of all workers in the Asia-Pacific will be engaged in “vulnerable” employment. A multisectoral panel at the 2019 Raisina Dialogue made five key observations in this context.
The future of work is contextual, and it will vary in terms of form and impact in different countries. It is important to rethink the paradigm of what vulnerable means in India, where the focus is on job creation.
According to Ashish Dhawan, Founder and Chairman of Central Square Foundation, the Indian workforce is primarily agrarian and informal. India must, therefore, focus on the creation of jobs, regardless of whether these jobs are in the formal or informal sector. Dhawan stated that one of the factors behind India’s low — and possibly declining — female labour force participation rate is that the jobs simply do not exist.
The term “informal work” is often used interchangeably with “vulnerable employment.” Jobs created by digital platforms, such as Ola and Uber as well as food aggregator apps, are still considered “vulnerable jobs.” However, protections and informal work can co-exist, as exemplified by the Ubercare model in India. Moreover, some of these platforms also provide incentives to perform and upskill.
According to Pradeep Parameswaran, President of Uber India and South Asia, of the three million people who drive or deliver goods for Uber, a majority were previously unemployed. It is also necessary to acknowledge that unemployment disproportionately affects people at the lower income scale.
It is clear that innovation and technology will drive ‘new’ types of employment in the future, where flexibility will be key. Thus, in the global market, the number of full-time jobs added will decline, while part-time jobs will increase. Srivatsan Rajan, Chairman of Bain India, spoke about the US, where this is already happening and the traditional pyramid management structure is changing.
This phenomenon could put pressure on social and economic systems in developing nations, as their populations continue to increase. While labour laws, safety standards and minimum wage are important, opportunities must be explored to delink social security and protections from employment. In an independent, informal and increasingly digital workforce, these must instead be linked to the individual.
There is consensus that automation is going to be one of the most significant challenges in the future. However, views differ on how exactly it will affect the job market. While automation’s impact is often overstated, there are very few job markets that will escape without significant change. The difference between labour costs and the cost of automation will also determine such outcomes.
Burcu Baran, Director of Policy Communities, Global Relations Forum, Turkey, commented that it is unlikely for automation to happen concurrently across the world. For instance, the speed of automation in Taiwan and Indonesia is twice the global average.
In this context, two conversations are pertinent:
i. If full or partial automation results in significant job reductions and pressure on wages, what forms of adapted social safety nets could be considered and tested?
ii. Since greater interaction between humans, machines and evolving technology interfaces requires different and improved skills, how can businesses invest in helping workers acquire these?
Companies are already facing gaps in skills needed in a more technology-driven workplace. The private sector can benefit from playing a more active role in education and training, by providing better information about their needs to learners, job seekers, and the education and training ecosystem. In fact, employers themselves can also provide more direct learning opportunities to employees.
According to Dhawan, policy conversations and government interventions tend to put too much focus on skilling, and not enough on job creation. Some digital platforms now incentivise employees to upskill. Uber’s Uber Academy is one such example where the employees are also skill providers. Further, more Uber drivers are encouraged to use tools such as Hello English to improve their communication skills, demonstrating another way in which the platform can help in upskilling employees.
In this context, a bulk of government interventions could instead focus on the demand side. Basic education will still be necessary in all future of work scenarios, as platform workers will need to read and understand digital content. Thus, in addition to incentivising skilling, the government must also create an enabling environment.
Government regulations will continue to play a crucial role in building an enabling environment for the intersection of free-market jobs and technology, which will mould the future of work. For instance, policymakers working with traditional and non-traditional education providers could play a direct role in improving basic STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) skills through school systems, while also emphasising the need for creativity, and critical and systems thinking. Current research shows that fostering an adaptive and lifelong learning ability will be important in future.
Further, it is imperative for the governments, especially in developing countries, to work towards job creation by investing in businesses. In particular, the creation of digital jobs is crucial in India. The government must also encourage other digitally enabled opportunities to earn, through new forms of entrepreneurship.
Finally, it is important to question the role of redistributive policies, such as higher taxation of the rich, in this context. It is clear that jobs will continue to be created, the question is whether these jobs will meet the needs and aspirations of the emerging workforce.
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