Future of work in the digital economy


GLOBALISATION, technology, mobility, Millennials and new attitudes are causing the employment scene to change at an ever-faster rate.

Companies can no longer afford the luxury of waiting to see what happens.

Anyone who does that will likely fail. Digital technology is causing the world of work change quickly today. Late adopters are placed in the same platform as “out of business”. It means, companies can no longer have the luxury of waiting to see what happens.

What is causing these changes now?

People are driven by new behaviours supported by better living environment, access of information, communication, collaboration and shaping of personal experiences. These new behaviours are cascading over organisations that is forcing them to make changes. Technology is providing the way for big data, cloud, Internet of things, robots, automation, video, collaboration platforms and others.

Next, there is growing participation of the Millennials who are not just bringing new approaches, ideas, values or styles of work, but will be the huge generation to enter the workforce with technological fluency.

Finally, globalisation has eased the concern of location. What matters is the ability to connect to the Internet and get access to the same people and information like working in an office building. With no boundary for the organisations to work in this world, the language spoken, currency transacted and physical location are starting to matter less.Economic history suggests following a period of disruption brought about by new technologies, the economy will eventually manage to create adequate jobs for their workforce. While certain sectors may use less labour, there are others with more new openings. In the 1920s, cars replaced horse coaches that saw the coachmen lose jobs. However, it created new and often better paid jobs like automobile manufacturing, car repairs, travelling, road building, etc which did not exist then.

So, digital economy will produce goods and services with less labour, thus lowering employment and wages. However, it raises productivity that should lower prices with new products emerging from higher final demand thus creating new jobs with possibly better wages. Hence, the initial disruption should be compensated.

Meanwhile, the challenges for both the policies and workers with fast-growing digital economy is the timing. Labour-saving digital technologies raises unemployment fast due to slow new job opportunities emerging. It is because it takes time to create new markets, assets transferred across sectors, business know-how built up and new skills developed. To expedite job creation, investment in data and digital infrastructure must be large. The share of GDP invested in ICT must increase fast. Business adoption of advanced digital technologies must be raised quickly. Many firms have broadband connection and webpage, but few use advanced ICT applications like e-commerce, cloud computing etc due to poor awareness and knowledge.

While the new jobs from digital technologies require different skills such as technical like software development, web management, etc, others have little to do with technology. So, the education policy must be comprehensive with a full range of plans from immediate until long term, focusing on digital capability, innovation and creativity to ensure business and economy can leapfrog.

They must remember that students, educators, and others need data on workplace trends. Today, a teenager needs to stay figuring out the kind of education and skills to be acquired to stay relevant is increasingly a difficult undertaking. Machines are already conducting data mining, writing basic press releases and news stories.

In coming years and decades, technology will develop to encompass ever more human work activities.

For teenagers of today to stay relevant in the future, they need to learn throughout their lifetime seeking continuously new skills, different types of training and credentials and learn to become more flexible and adaptable. They need to stop with the idea that with their achievement in education they can just go and work with that educational training.

The future of work one is looking at today is different from the past. It is far less structure and less predictability. Unlike in the past where one could comfortably say “this is the career I plan to choose”, such statement is difficult to make today with so much changing. Hence, it is important to prepare for oneself for the future.

In short, digital technologies is reshaping business models and firms’ organisation, and making “soft skills”, such as information-processing, self-direction, problem-solving and communication, become more important. Many people, however, do not seem to have such skills for a digital world.

Both the policy makers and business must come to a realisation that one of the biggest shifts in today’s workplace is who drives how work gets done.

Talented people need organisations less than organisations need talented people. It means the employees are now starting to drive the decisions and conversations around how work gets done, when it gets done, who it gets done with, what technologies are being used to get it done, and so on.

In the past, business executives would set the rules and pass them down to managers who, in turn, would pass them down to employees.

Anthony Dass is chief economist of AmBank Group. He is also the adjunct professor, Faculty of Economics, UNE, Australia


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