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What Next in a Global Labor Landscape in Flux?


By Kimberly Hogan

“I see aspirations converging all over the world and I’m really worried about it because unless we move more quickly in fighting poverty, unless we move more quickly in creating jobs, thwarted aspirations could turn into something really negative.”

– Dr. Jim Yong Kim, World Bank Group President

How would you describe the modern work landscape? Confusing, upside-down, stark, ever-changing? Many factors have contributed to this disorientation: technology, information access, constant connectivity, globalization, and much more. Even the concept of a traditional work week has eroded.

As of January 2016 regular “remote work” among the non-self-employed population, has grown 103 percent since 2005 in the U.S. and continues to grow globally. Meanwhile, the ranks of independent contractors swell as on-demand services become a more prominent segment of the workforce. 

What are the repercussions of such a disruption and how are our employers, recruiters, education systems, and communities responding?

Those are the themes that framed a Skoll World Forum session called A Work Landscape in Flux for Young People

As Jim Kim mentioned in the opening plenary of Skoll Week, now more than ever we need to pay close attention to these dynamics and anticipate the impacts. “Aspirations linked to opportunity yield dynamism,” he told the crowd. “Aspirations linked to frustration yield conflict, violence, and extremism.” There seems to be no better time to have this discussion.

Marina Gorbis, Executive Director of Institute for the Future (IFTF), set the stage by describing what she calls the “digital coordination economy.” This is our current age: built on the foundation of technology, connectivity, context, and coordination. New forms of efficiency, driven by individuals connecting those in need to services available, has created a dynamic gig economy.

Sounds like a western perspective? Other panelists described similar shifts in other regions of the world. Marwa Moaz, Co-founder and COO of Bamyan Media, described how gig economies help formalize the informal work sector in Egypt. Forty percent of Egyptian Uber drivers were previously unemployed. Driving Uber, said Moaz, gives them autonomy and a reliable income, and they get paid on time.

Dina El Mofty, CEO and founder of INJAZ Egypt, described how young people are at the forefront of this movement, creating their own economy, especially in the Middle East, a region with the highest youth unemployment rate in the world. Organizations like her own have empowered 500,000 young people in Egypt and 1,000,000 in the Middle East by focusing on addressing work readiness and entrepreneurship.

Fhazil Wamalwa, an educator and social entrepreneur who works with the M-Soma Institute and DISA Energy Management, said that the youth unemployment rate in Kenya is over 40 percent. He stressed how we need to help young people improve their skill sets to better match emerging jobs. Perhaps this is a root cause of the issue of global unemployment, he offered.

In the gig economy, the weight of risk is moved from the corporation to the individual, a burden for which many are unprepared. Healthcare options and individual insurance are harder to come by for those juggling jobs for a living wage.

Many growing job sectors rely on independent workers: military, IT / computer science, agriculture, fishing, and forestry. We may need an overhaul of the social safety infrastructure to mitigate this growing problem of individual risk.

Each of the voices in this session found consensus around the need to match job skills to jobs available. But by whom, and how?

El Mofty noted that engagement with the government is critical. She cautioned though against waiting for government-led curriculum shifts; the marketplace is changing far too fast. INJAZ Egypt works with the Ministry of Education to partner with the private sector to teach work-ready skills to young people. These programs can create appetite, she said, and link students to the outside world through mentorship.

Gorbis mentioned how some U.S. community colleges are implementing a “learning is earning” model that requires students to be employed while earning their degree (preferably in a job related to their field of study). This approach encourages students to apply new skills in real time. Still, education and training must adapt curricula to match the actual needs of the marketplace, and quickly!

Parents can exacerbate the issue by pressuring their children to follow more traditional routes where there may no longer be a job market, said Moaz. Media has an opportunity to educate and shift mindsets. Wamalwa spoke to an interesting approach that M-Soma Institute has developed to quickly scale up individual technical skills by offering short-term training courses to young people before they pursue costly post-secondary studies. This not only equips students with a new set of “real time” applicable skills, but also allows them to earn an income and save for college or university.

The question remains: can we adapt fast enough? It’s the pace that makes navigating this “brave new world” such a challenge. Will we forever play catch up? This loops back to Jim Kim’s thoughts. We need a sense of urgency, of personal responsibility, and of community to tackle these challenges. We need to play our part in empowering, educating, and creating opportunity for the next generation. We can all be mentors, and perhaps that’s one place to start.

Posted on May 23, 2017

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