How to be Ready for the Redefined World of Work
Cannexus23, Canada’s national career development conference, wrapped up last week. Among the lineup of talented and insightful presenters was Linda Nazareth, economist, author, and respected authority on the future of work. In this synopsis of Linda’s keynote presentation, she reflects on how the pandemic upturned not only the economy and our lives, but the world of work as well. A series of megatrends, including climate change, demographics, and the fourth industrial revolution, are about to disrupt work even further. Linda gives us a glimpse into what we should expect and how we can ready ourselves for a redefined world of work that looks significantly different than the past.
Getting Ready for the Redesigned World of Work
We are currently in a period that many are referring to as “the uneasy present.” We have come through the pandemic and emerged more cautious and a little shaken. People are questioning where they want to be in both their personal and work lives. There is something to be said for the concept of post-traumatic growth. When people come through a challenging event, such as a global pandemic, they are marked in some way. They know they have to recover and, following the event, they decide to take positive action of some kind. Many are carefully reflecting on their values, considering what matters to them, and deciding to make a change in the work they do.
Remote work continues to make a huge difference in the workplace. Three years into working from home (WFH), people have developed very strong views on the topic. In general, most workers like it and many CEOs do not. WFH has changed the landscape of the world of work and its effects have not yet stabilized.
Three Megatrends Impacting the Redefined World of Work
1) Climate Change
The world is experiencing an increasing number of extreme weather event: floods, heat waves, wildfires, hurricanes, droughts, among others. These events impact the economy and jobs in significant ways. People are starting to travel again but will likely avoid previously popular tourist destinations due to extreme weather. For example, London, England experienced such extreme heat this past summer that rail lines were shut down because the metal tracks were buckling.
Climate change could potentially cause another pandemic, which would trigger another period of economic disruption. A warming planet causes animals to move to different geographic locations, perhaps bringing viruses with them.
Companies are now being pressed to be open and transparent about their carbon footprint. Related to the topic of remote work, keep in mind that commuting workers add to the carbon footprint of a business.
Where does climate change leave us as we look at the future of work? It will create a focus on carbon footprints, cause industries to pivot, start a push for retraining in industries (such as the energy sector), and accelerate training for new skills (such as how to measure carbon footprints and how to reduce emissions while maintaining financial viability). Training will be required for boards of directors and executives—all the way through organizations—on carbon footprints and the impact climate change will bring to industry. People who are educated in climate change, and able to conduct such training, are in short supply right now.
2) Demographic Shift
We are an aging society in Canada. The median age is at 40 and we’re in a period of low birth rates. Canada would actually have a falling population if it were not for immigration. Even with a growth in immigration, we’re not looking at population growth the way it was back in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. We’re certainly not looking at labour force growth. When “the boomers” were coming into the workforce, Canada saw growth rates of 2% to 3% per year. Now, we are looking at around 1.2%. That is a bit of a disadvantage when it comes to finding workers. It’s also a disadvantage for the economy. Fewer people entering the workforce means there will be a lot of competition for talent.
Boomers are exiting the workforce now. Generation X is taking the helm, while Millennials and Gen Z will be the new managers. The Gen Z cohort have unique values and see things through a different lens. This will certainly impact the future world of work.
3) The Fourth Industrial Revolution
Technology is changing. The fourth industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0, is happening all around us. The first and second revolutions of the 1700s and 1800s gave us sanitation, mass production, and early machinery. Industry 3.0, starting in the 1960s, emerged from the space program and gave us early computers and automation.
Industry 4.0 is about cyber physical systems, the internet of things (IoT), and vast networks. It is distinguished from other revolutions because it’s happening much quicker than anything we’ve seen in the past. It is providing societal uses for technology that were not considered or envisioned when first introduced. An example is decades-old crimes being solved through advances in DNA identification and tracking.
It is still not clear where we’ll end up with the rapid advancement of technology. Obviously, there are concerns that it will replace human workers and cause job loss. We’re in the first wave of Industry 4.0 and it’s thought that we’ll see the brunt of this in about 10 years. Many examples exist of how technology disrupted things in the past; elevator operators, for example. They adjusted to change, just as we will adjust again. But who will be hurt in the process? Studies have been done that try to identify jobs most at risk of being replaced by automation: food preparation, construction, cleaning, driving, garment manufacturing, among others, are considered vulnerable.
The fourth industrial revolution is changing everything and there is a growing gap between the jobs being created and the jobs that will be needed. Eventually the gap will start closing.
All of these factors, trends, and moving parts lend themselves to the idea that the future of work is like a kaleidoscope—a work kaleidoscope. We don’t really know what it will look like next. Many of us are used to “work” being one thing, as it was decades ago. People went to traditional workplaces (where they often remained with one employer for many years) and returned home at a set time at the end of the work day.
Now, work is going to be many things. The hybrid model will remain and evolve, but we’ll also talk about “the Hollywood model” where not everyone is at work at the same time, or together forever. They come together because of a movie project, they get things done, and then they leave. This extends to the entire crew of a movie project. We see the start of this model with gig work and contract work. There are protests against these roles; complaints that they’re not fair to workers, or not a good way to get things done. The 4-day work week will continue to be discussed and trialed. We have to be flexible and realize that there will continue to be a lot of different work models. It’s important for us to help each other adapt as we move into the future.
We can evolve. Let’s tap into our desire for personal growth and learn about and use helpful technology. This will help the evolution. We know the challenges ahead and we can rise to them. Take this moment and let’s make the world a better place. We can do this as an individual, as part of an organization, and as a citizen of a country and the world. This is a watershed moment in economic history where we can change things for the better, whether we do that by asking colleges and universities for different things, changing our own careers, changing our priorities, and changing the priorities we’re looking for from government.
There is a great deal of hope for the future. We are creating it right now and we will end up in a better place, but it’s going to take some time to get there.
Cathy Milton has been a member of CPC for 10 years now, and holds MCRS, MCIS, MCCS, MCES, and MCWS designations. She is a member of the board of CPC and the association’s Compliance Director. When she’s not working, Cathy enjoys cooking, sailing in summer, and taking care of her pets.