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Ought education necessarily to satisfy the requirements of work?

Posted By Esmee Wilcox, Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Esmee Wilcox inspects the usefulness of education in her ninth blog post for our Emerging Fellows program. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

A simplistic, causal relationship between success in work and learning falls down in our mid-21st century globally connected, digitally enhanced, rapidly automating world. The institutions, corporations and capital that determine whose work we are preparing people for, risk the perpetuation of global skills shortages and rising income inequality. In the latter half of this century, what might the purpose of education become, that more effectively addresses the issues we face and the modes of work we are choosing? Should we attempt to create such a system that spreads the risk, or accept unevenly distributed effects of enviro-economic disruptions?

 

We face a conundrum: complex issues such as moving to zero-carbon cities by 2030 require a level of critical thinking and innovation that will disrupt the modes of operating of government and the corporations that fund education. They will require longer periods of education – lifelong and life-wide – that may reduce short-term economic output. That disrupts the balance in the funding relationship between the young, the workers, and pension beneficiaries. Governments intervene to equalise access on the basis of accepted social norms. Yet are increasingly ineffective at reducing the polarising impact of parent income on childhood attainment.

 

We might imagine a system that redefines the purpose of work first. Where the norm becomes dynamic self-managed teams within organisations, and self-organised networks of freelancers without, which rebalance our ambition for individual status with collective value. Our need to travel, to eat, to care for our families is dependent upon our ability to align paid work with the rhythms of community co-operation. We might – looking to millennials now in the gig economy - see paid work as essential but secondary to the roles we take on in exchange not for currency but usable commodities.

 

A more efficient system – that educates more of the population to be capable of tackling tomorrow’s problems – would alter the balance of power away from near-term beneficiaries. Educational returns on investment no longer felt solely by profitability or tax revenues: but also by longer term, distributed social and community gains. Financing mechanisms no longer the preserve of government and corporations, but flourishing community interest bonds. Lifelong learning the norm, and not dependent on personal wealth, fit with government strategy, or sponsorship by large employers. Accessible through communities prepared to invest in long-term resilience, understanding the purpose of work as aligned with community impact.

 

Or corporations may continue to sponsor and polarise the deployment of mobile elite labour as effective in addressing their need for innovation and profitability. Governments may be less able to equalise access to education, with greater dependence on risky private financing, and a reduced democratic mandate to intervene. Even in highly planned, nationalist economies governments may justify focussing on elite education for the ‘greater good’. Or to diminish the impact of disposable income in exacerbating socio-economic advantages and access to learning.

 

Enviro-economic disruptions may force many of us to redefine the purpose of work and the values that we ascribe to it. Such that learning systems satisfy the requirements of the innovation, collaboration and community we need to succeed in the 2050s and beyond. We can look to communities and work organisations that are developing collaborative learning networks. Yet these are still an, albeit plausible, step-change away from funding mechanisms that achieve longer-term, distributed social and community outcomes. These may emerge through necessity in the development of closed-loop zero carbon systems in the 2030s. This could enable the purpose of education to shift away from the requirements of work to solving the issues raised by the complex problems we’re increasingly facing.

 

© Esmee Wilcox 2019

Tags:  education  government  work 

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In a fully digital economy will you still be needed to work in a factory or sit at an office-desk?

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Paul Tero a member of our Emerging Fellows program proceeds with his marvelous journey to the land of digital economy in his third blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

Work. Whether we sit in an office, walk in a manufacturing facility, or perform some other task, those of us who work are living examples basic economic theory. We are all playing our part in turning an input into an output. We could be making sales calls to increase demand for a product, driving a truck to deliver raw materials, or even developing software to make the process better. Whether our organisation produces goods or services, we are all being paid to perform our part somewhere along the value chain.

 

The economy of tomorrow, the time when teenagers of today have teenage grandchildren, is more than likely to be a fully digital economy. We can see evidence of this transition already. The value chain decades ago was all about atoms, all about making and using physical goods. Today it is a mix of atoms and bits, it is an economy where value is created in the digital sphere as well as the physical sphere. Tomorrow the value chain may well be dominated by that which is digital.

 

Consider the primary industries. Aren’t mines and farms becoming more automated? What about the secondary industries of manufacturing and construction? Isn’t automation taking hold there as well? Even for higher value sectors such as finance, health and professional services we are witnessing inroads being made by either automated or intelligence-laden digital processes. It can be argued that there will be less employment in industry sectors that create value out of atoms. Even though the value of these sectors is growing across the OECD, related employment is largely stagnant.

 

Where is value created in the digital economy and what part do workers play in it? Value in the digital economy is created in the manufacture of ICT hardware, in the creation of software and services that use software, and in the collecting, processing and disseminating of data and information.

 

Regarding the manufacture of ICT hardware, it is not too hard to see full automation in production and logistics. But in the research, development and design phases we humans will still be critical for success. Regarding the creation of software and software-based services, is it not too far-fetched to contemplate software writing software? Where designers set the input and output requirements for new software or a new service, and the computer creates and tests the complete set of algorithms and interfaces. Finally, regarding the management of data and information. Apart from employees performing regulatory oversight, it is possible to imagine the only other scenario in which human involvement is necessary is where faulty data collection sensors need to be replaced. Given this, what then is the response to the headline question?

 

The answer is a qualified yes. While there are many factors that should be taken into consideration, and which are being ably explored by my Emerging Fellow colleagues, the foundational truth is that an economy is there to serve society. For we grow things, we produce things, we teach things, we regulate things and so on for our individual and collective benefit.

 

Even though you may accept the propositions that (a) we are moving to an economy that is dominated by bits and, (b) just like production involving atoms having become more automated, so too will bits-based production. We will still be human. And even though what we value and how we pay for it will more than likely change, there will still be economic production to serve the needs of the population. So yes, the factory will still be around to produce physical goods, but the types of work that are open to humans are those that are less automated. And yes, the office-desk job will still be around, but it too will involve non-automated people and thinking skills.

 

Even though what will be available and how it is produced will be different from today, basic economic theory will still apply. No matter the industry sector, in a fully digital economy people will still have roles as productive links somewhere in the value chain.

 

 

© Paul Tero 2019

Tags:  economics  production  work 

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How Have Companies Changed in The Past?

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, January 2, 2019
Updated: Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Charlotte Aguilar-Millan has written her first post in our Emerging Fellows program. Through a brief review, she inspects the flexibility of working within European socioeconomic contexts. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

Ever since companies emerged in the Seventeenth Century they have evolved and changed as their operating conditions have changed. As successive changes have occurred, the workspace has changed with it. From the small office of Ebenezer Scrooge to the vast factory of Dilbert. Within the 20th century there has been a significant shift in the style of a working office from a closed smaller office style to what can be seen today in open plan offices.

As employees are spending more time at work, and as the working career is lengthening, the workforce is now taking more ownership of what is expected from a workplace. Employees today have higher expectations for their working life. They no longer expect a long retirement to look forward to. Instead they aspire to live their golden years along with their working years. With this new expectation, there is an increase in the need for flexibility within the workplace.

One such way companies have been adapting to these needs is with more flexibility on working hours and location. With rising intangible based operations, there is now a desire and opportunity on the part of staff to work where it is convenient for them. This has been incorporated into staff benefit packages. It is now a standard feature for a vast number of careers including consultancy, technical support engineers and even accountants – the service based creative economy.

Staff are able to be based at home to complete work and only go into the office when the need arises. Employers, as well as employees, experience benefits such as reduced stress from the absence of a daily commute. Staff feel more focused on their work by leaving the noisy open planned office and an empowerment to shape the classic 9-5 working day to their needs.

The new type of working environment does however have a large stigma attached to it. Working from home has not come without side-affects. Research has suggested that those who regularly work from home also experience a fall in opportunities for promotion in comparison to performance. This has placed the onus on some employees to feel that they must be available for longer hours when working at home. This is an area which employers are able to exploit as more employees receive a work phone or work laptop in order to work from home. There is also an expectation that these are kept on at weekends and evenings.

The company of today has had to adapt to lifestyle changes in their employees lives. This has seen, for example, the development of ‘peternity leave’ where staff are able to take time off to buy a new pet. Other changes have arisen as a result of legislation, including changes in parental leave. In the UK, legislation mandated that where both parents desire to split maternity leave within the first year of a child’s life, an employer must allow this. Other countries within the European Union have legislated initiatives, including Sweden paying a ‘gender equality’ bonus to parents who adopt this shared parental leave and Germany adding two months of parental leave to those parents who split the leave.

While structural unemployment rates continue to fall – for example in the UK from a high in 1984 of 12% to 4% in 2018 – this allows employees an opportunity to seek the benefits that resonate most to them rather than accepting those which an employer offers. As a result, companies have had to accept change in order to attract staff.

Employees are now aware of the opportunity for further flexibility in their work place. Will a growing desire for flexible working manifest itself into a global gig economy where employees no longer have just one employer but the flexibility to pick and choose work when suits them? If a gig economy manifests itself, will this see the end to companies as we know them? What, exactly, does a disembodied company look like?

© Charlotte Aguilar-Millan 2019

Tags:  change  work  workplace 

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Will robots teach us to care?

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, October 17, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Polina Silakova’s tenth post in our Emerging Fellows program examines the future of work through robots. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

The last couple of months have been particularly loud with all things about women’s rights. From the freedom to change a T-shirt on a tennis court to gender equality at C-level roles – the world seems to be going through some sort of “Equality Checklist” in all possible aspects of life. This made me curious: if one day we achieve the sort of gender equality we are seeking, what would the world look like? How would this play out with changes in other areas of life? And why are we trying to create this future in the first place?
 
These days many corporate and public bodies are trying to close gender equality gaps at every level of their organisation. At the same time, trend analyses indicate that ubiquitous robotisation will replace many of skilled labour jobs and free up people for work… in the care sector. These jobs require the ability to connect emotionally, build relationships and empathise – the qualities robots don’t have. According to the International Labour Organisation, two-thirds of these jobs are occupied by women; and traditionally they haven’t been valued much. There is hope that being less replaceable by machines, this type of work will become more valued and more attractive in the future.
 
Indeed, one of the perverse attributes of capitalistic society is that we value and incentivise work which is directly linked to visible outcomes, such as profit, growth or innovation. It gets all the credit. While its enabler – caring work, a lot of which is unrecognised and unpaid, such as looking after kids, elderly or people with disabilities – remains in the shadow. With our habit to define each other by what we do, somehow work as a full-time mum or carer has become a negligible (not to mention unprofitable) occupation. But can we be successful in business when our family is not cared for? Or, as futurist Alvin Toffler used to ask: “How productive would your workforce be if it hadn’t been toilet trained”?

Due to the current perception of care work as a second-rate occupation and related low pay, we already don’t have enough care workers to look after those in need. Although there is no certainty whether these jobs will be better paid for in the future, it’s quite likely that robotisation will push more people to become a part of the economy of care, even if only as a way to maintain social bonds. At the end of the day, being useful for somebody is a part of human nature; and getting paid for it is a by far better alternative to the unemployment bench. This will, in turn, lead to a more even gender distribution in this job segment, further contributing to it being valued more.
 
Had traditional female roles as carer received a proper role in the economy, would we see this push for gender equality in the business world? Would more people be choosing carer roles, knowing that they will receive a decent pay and recognition? Equality is not about blindly erasing differences between men and women. Nether it is only about providing equal opportunities at the top of the career ladder. What is missing is the recognition of the importance of the carer work which enables our progress as a society and re-writing economic models to make it a true part of the economy. It requires a cultural change and the revision of our values. By reshaping the future of work, robotisation is expected to be a driving force for this shift. But do we have to wait for it to start caring for carers?


© Polina Silakova 2018

Tags:  robot  society  work 

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Get Real

Posted By Administration, Friday, February 2, 2018
Updated: Sunday, February 24, 2019

Adam Cowart is one of our Emerging Fellows, and this is his second article written for the program. In it, he explores the real economy and asks a few questions along the way.

Our current economic system and all the social and political systems tied to it require perpetual growth. Growth not only underpins the financial economy but the real economy as well, which requires new goods and services (or more demand for the same) to expand. The end of growth would mean the collapse of financial markets and stagnation in the real economy. It would also lead to social and political upheaval due to financial inequality. The socio-political perspective that underlies our obsession with growth is the presumption that lower and middle-class citizens will accept massive inequality as long as their lives (and wages) get incrementally better, year after year. We would all love to have that private yacht, but are content as long as our annual salary increase allows us to take that Alaskan cruise. And this incremental improvement does not come from increased economic equality or financial redistribution; it is a result of growth.

Another long standing economic assumption is that, as jobs are automated, new forms of work will emerge. While some estimates follow a historically consistent trend of 10% job displacement in the foreseeable future, other estimates predict an acceleration of displacement, up to 50%. If job displacement does enter the 50% range, the creation of as-yet-unknown jobs, at such significantly high numbers in a relatively short period of time, seems unlikely. Even minor displacement can have a significant disruptive effect on political and social cohesion. But there is another option for continual growth in the real economy: instead of creating new jobs, simply commoditize things that people are currently doing for free.

Paul Mason alludes to this in his book “Post-Capitalism” when he suggests that in order to make this a scalable economic area of growth, “would require the mass commercialization of ordinary human life.” Late capitalism appears to be stealing a few plays from the feminist economics playbook. While media attention has largely been focused on pay equity between genders, some of the foundational work in feminist economics has focused on care work and intra-household bargaining. It is not much of a stretch to interpret Mason’s “ordinary human life” as the traditional perspective of unpaid “women’s work”.

If one is looking for a macro-trend in the real economy, one need look no further than the colonization of social interaction by the economy. This is evident in the more ubiquitous forms of social media but is also increasingly prevalent in more innocuous forms. Consider the cuddle party, a social media coordinated interaction where strangers come together out of a desire to cuddle (and watch a movie). Organizations such as “Nurse Next Door” look after the elderly, Christmas dinner can be ordered online, and Chore apps convince kids to (continue) to do work around the house “for free”. The company “Do My Stuff” has succinctly defined the overall trend with their slogan “Outsource your life”.

Anyone considering a new business could start with the question “What are people doing today for free, that I can get them to pay for tomorrow?” Of course, the question now must be asked, if every tiny component of our existence becomes commoditized and outsourced, are we even real anymore?



© Adam Cowart 2018

Tags:  capitalism  economics  work 

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What Makes a Futurist “Good”?

Posted By Administration, Monday, February 23, 2015
Updated: Saturday, February 23, 2019

Jason Swanson  shares his thoughts with us about “What Makes a Futurist Good?” in this blog post for our Emerging Fellows program. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

A few weeks ago I had the good pleasure of hosting my friend Jacob for a visit. Jacob is a quantum physicist and research group leader at the Quantum Network, making him one of the few people whose job might take more explaining than mine when asked what I do.

Over the course of his visit, he asked me a question that has stuck with me. The question was a simple one; what makes a futurist “good”? The question, while on the surface seemed straight forward, however the more I sought an answer, the more lost I became.

We might judge a good futurist by credentials and training. Have they learned methods for looking at the future from an academic institution? Did they take a seminar or some manner of formal training? This training might have some manner of correlation with a “good” futurist, but the credentials themselves are third party verification of certain competencies in methods that a futurist might employ. Even more problematic is that many enter the field from other industries, with years of outside knowledge and expertise and little or no formal training or “futures” credentials, yet put out well-regarded work.

With the idea of credentials and training no longer an option for figuring out who might be good, I started to think about output. Is it possible to objectively judge a forecast? Could one be a poor futurist but an excellent writer and create vivid images of the future? Sure. Could one be great at mastering the methods in a futurist’s tool box but not articulate the images of the future? Certainly. There is also the issue of bias; we may favor a particular writing style, or image, or method, thus gravitating towards a piece of work over others based more so on style than on content.

Ultimately my line of thinking has led me to this; a good futurist is one that creates good forecasts, in whichever form they are presented. A good forecast is one in which action is taken. Thus, a good forecast could potentially be created by anyone, with any form of credentials. It could be articulated in any way. As long as a stakeholder takes action, it may be considered good. Admittedly this is a very simplistic view. As the field continues to work towards professionalizing, there may be a time when there will have to be some criteria for what makes a futurist “good”. There is no easy answer to this. That is the rub with trying to rate a futurist. At best we create a standard for what we view to be good work. At worst we risk narrowing the field and creating a status quo, creating groups that are “in” and “out”, good and bad. If we base being “good” on forecasts that produce action, how do we define action? Is it creating actionable strategies? What about simply asking better questions about the future?

What makes a futurist “good” to you? Is it even possible to objectively call someone a good futurist?

Tags:  futurist  good  work 

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