COGNIZANT ADVOCACY: The future of work is no longer in the future
G20 Summit

COGNIZANT ADVOCACY: The future of work is no longer in the future

Look around, and you can see the radical and rapid change in the nature of work in every corner of the globe. Many mature industries are undergoing, at best, existential shocks – at worst, complete tailspins. Old skills have declining value. Old business models based on those skill sets are being crushed under the weight of economics that no longer make sense. Imbalances between job openings and qualified candidates put huge strains on governments struggling to adjust as public-sector finances become stressed beyond tolerance. In the United Kingdom, as one example, 30,000 media studies students graduate every year into a fast contracting commercial media industry, yet 600,000 technology-related vacancies go unfilled.

All around us, a new world is being created by the collision of four major, macro, long-term trends:

  • The ongoing, unstoppable growth of globalisation
  • The primacy of the ‘platform’ provided by the internet and new waves of technology
  • The rise of millennial and Gen-Z generations
  • The ‘virtualisation’ of organisations

This collision sees the world of work as quite different from just a few years ago. Consider the following:

A massive refresh of technology is happening – large organisations are racing to retool for a new era of cloud computing, automation, algorithms and artificial intelligence.

A battle is raging to secure access to new skills and talents – the languages of the future are not French or German, Chinese or Spanish, but Python and Java, C++ and Hadoop.

New jobs are emerging – a generation ago, being a ‘social media manager’ would have required some explanation when you went home for the holidays. Now, no one would bat an eye. In another few years, telling your family that you’re an ‘algorithm bias auditor’ will simply elicit the response, “Pass the cranberry sauce, please…”

The look and feel of working is the same as chilling – the workers of the future sit on couches in hoodies, mind to mind through Slack with Scrum mates on the other side of the world. The cubicles are emptying, the suits are at home in the closet, and the client/server green screens are hardly ever on.

Platform economics leave little room for runners up – in a world of Metcalfe’s Law (the greater number of users on a platform, the more valuable it becomes) being number one means everything. Coming in second? You might as well be last. The commercial consequences of this reality are still being adjusted to by organisations in every industry. Relatively free trade and relatively frictionless movement of capital and labour have had the unintended consequence of amplifying global volatility and instability, as capital has sought alpha wherever it can and labour has sought its premium wherever it can. Bubbles have gotten bigger and crashes have gotten more severe. 

Emergence of new work

In the midst of all of this churn and uncertainty, new industries are emerging and exploding in the red hot furnace of digitisation. Huge money is being created from work that represents the future. Work requiring completely different skill sets and attitudes and expectations. Work leveraging new faces from new parts of the world. Work that we don’t fully understand yet. Work that is weird and strange and unsettling and trivial and extremely stretching. Work that is not fit for our parents and will seem ridiculous to our kids.

This tension between the past and the future of work is one of the most pressing issues that political, business and civic leaders will need to engage with at this year’s G20 meeting. Seizing the opportunities of the future – and spreading these opportunities as widely as possible – are the surest routes to ensuring economic growth and social harmony. Failing at either of these
tasks presages a future that is unsettling to contemplate.