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“It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future” – goes a Danish quote.

One routinely sees the fallacy of predictions even by experts. That’s because we overestimate the quantum of change in the short term, but under-estimate it in the long term. Another reason why predictions fail is that the human brain is more comfortable thinking linearly, however, changes happen in complex systems, where a small incremental difference can impact a disproportionate impact in another are – or what is known as “the butterfly effect” So at the risk of sounding like an idiot when someone revisits these words (as I am quite sure I would be) here are my thoughts about the short and long term future of jobs and work. However, if we observe from an Indian perspective here is the current state of affairs: Technical and Professional education is at a standstill. More and more engineering colleges and management schools are shutting down due to over-supply of seats, lack of proper selection process and job-ready candidates, and a shortage of teaching staff. Outside the elite institutions, people are getting jobs that they would have got even if they were plain graduates.

Traditional big industries from manufacturing to IT to banking to telecom are introducing automation and Artificial Intelligence to take away jobs that would traditionally be done by humans and is prone to human error. RPA (Robotics Process Automation) is taking over tasks across industries. While re-skilling is imperative, incumbent industries that are trying to compete with disruptors are under tremendous pressure to cut costs and hence are unable to take on the costs of reskilling. It is also accepted as a given at today’s generation that is coming into the workforce will need to reskill of radically different skills about 10-15 times in their lifetime. So careers are going to be “emergent” rather than planned and more like a patchwork quilt than a traditional ladder. New skills are evolving all the time. And an openness to experiment and learn would be imperative for any employee.

Everyone talks about the rise of the gig economy and the freelance workforce, that is enabling a lot of talent that traditionally drops out of or is ignored by the organized workplaces, like people with disability, LGBTQ people. The rise of niche online/app-based marketplaces is empowering for these people. However, the ones making the money are doing it without the safety net of traditional employment like health insurance or retiral benefits. In addition, since this economy is ruled by algorithms and attention so the “power-law” applies – some freelancers who are recognized as brands or get rated higher get disproportionately higher work and compensation.

Think of the movie industry analogy (which is essentially a gig economy) where the stars get paid the most than others. Put together all these trends, what emerges is a pretty dismal looking scenario for humans looking for work in the organized sector (I’m not counting the 90% of the workforce in the unorganized sector) is the rise of specific types of jobs that would require people to not just be operationally excellent but who can look at what the algorithms/bots can’t spot or do. While driverless cars and trucks are still some way off from Indian roads – automation will also impact the semi-skilled workforce in the building and construction as well as the textile industry. We will see a lot of people realizing that the onus of developing their professional and vocational skills are up to them. They will sign up for the various free and paid online certification to build skills that are in high demand as they make radically different shifts into unrelated careers.

HR departments and organizations would need to give their people the flexibility to do that, otherwise, they themselves will lose out on talent. This would also impact the kind of talent organizations will hire as the fascination with “pedigreed campuses” will wane with the rise of micro-certification of specific skills.

Written by Gautam Ghosh.

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