The Future of Work was the fourth event in the Conversations of our Time series, on 15 October. We were joined by  futurist and serial entrepreneur Raya Bidshahri, tech advocate and social entrepreneur Regina Honu and journalist and author James Bloodworth. The webinar was chaired by Shazia Khawar - Director (Inclusive Communities) for the British Council in South Asia.

Current work trends

Technological automation

Raya quotes a report by McKinsey which shows that 50 per cent of today’s jobs can be automated using existing technology. Artificial intelligence (AI) is taking over routine, mechanical tasks previously only eve done by people. Many of these jobs are being outsourced to developing countries, where the effect of automation will be felt the most.

Rise of gig economy

Being employed in the gig economy in some ways gives you more flexibility. However, a growing number of people are exploited by this system. They lose their rights to minimum wage, sick-pay and annual leave. James wanrs that gig economy practices, such as Zero-Hour contracts, are now spreading from blue-collar work into the professions, and affecting a growing proportion of working- and middle-class jobs. This is both a moral and a practical issues.

Unemployment among graduates

Regina highlights that, in Ghana, there are now many more people coming into the workforce who have graduated from senior high school. While it is a great achievement that more girls have the opportunity to stay in school and obtain their diplomas, many struggle to find jobs. A quarter of senior high school graduates are unemployed, this is the highest unemployment rate of all categories in the labour-force.

How to thrive in today’s workforce

In his recent article ‘Are graduates doomed? ‘ James suggests that 'workers who graduate into recessions have lower earnings and worse professional prospects than their peers who finish university during better times’. We are living through a recession caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, but there is no need to despair. There are a lot of things graduates, aspiring entrepreneurs and everyone else can do to ensure they are successful in their working-lives. Here are eight ways suggested by our panel:

Learn how to learn

Raya explains that the typical paradigm of the industrial era  - where you graduate, continue studying (to Masters- or PhD-level) in the same subject area, and then  work in the same industry for the rest of your life - is over. An average person changes careers three to five times during their lifetime. We are seeing the emergence of alternative universities, offering micro-degrees to develop the skills needed to keep up with the pace of the change. In Raya’s view, we all need to know how to learn quickly   to upskill on demand

Broaden your skillset

In today’s economy, every field calls for a multi-disciplinary skillset. James gives an example from his industry. To thrive as a journalist today, it’s not enough to master the written word. You are much more in demand if you are also skilled in recording podcasts or making YouTube videos.

Develop agility and adaptability

Becoming more agile and adaptable ‘often involves unlearning outdated ways of thinking and doing and upskilling with the mindsets and new skills very quickly’, Regina explians.

Build your portfolio

James recommends getting as many internships as possible, even if they will be done remotely. Noting that many young people want to start their own enterprises, Raya suggests asking yourself about the problems you want to solve rather than the job to do. If there is a problem, there will also be a market and demand for a solution. Approaching your future career from this angle can help you see where the jobs are.

Grow your professional network

Raya reveals that almost 80 per cent of job offers come through networks, so it’s important to get to know people who share your vision and respond to your ideas.

Learn to recognise opportunities

Regina highlights that it’s essential for young people to be able to recognise and respond to opportunities. She gives the example of how during Covid-19 pandemic we have seen the growth of Fintech (such as, automated financial services), because people haven’t been able to use cash; and of Edutainment, because children have not been in school.

Step out of your comfort zone

‘It’s one thing learning in a classroom and another thing performing outside of the classroom’, Regina explains. Our formal education system prepares people to pass exams, but doesn’t help them to think outside the box, innovate and challenge the status quo.

Identify a problem to solve

‘Follow where your passion is, identify a problem in your community or society that you provide a solution for and be resilient’, Regina advises.

What jobs will we do in 30 years?

‘The nature of what it means to be human workers is completely at stake,’ Raya Bidshahri.

It’s expected that, in the short-term, all routine jobs will be taken over by AI.  In the long-term, AI will be able to perform all creative and knowledge-based jobs too. What does that mean for us? Raya encourages us to believe that AI is an opportunity to bring prosperity to all of  humanity in the long run. One of the potential solutions to avoid problems caused by unemployment, Raya notes, is universal basic income - which has been shown in studies to raise the average quality of life.

Please watch the recording if you didn’t attend the event. Share your thoughts and ideas about the issues discussed on social media using the hashtag #ConnectedByConversations. Don’t forget to register for our next event Leadership in times of change that will take place on 12 November.

Angelina Twomey

See also