• Harry Chia •
What will the workplace look like in five years when some of you could have finished your tertiary studies? Will we even be able to recognise it anymore? For years the workplace and corporate environment has remained relatively stable, but as companies seek new ways to cut costs, look for new sources or revenue, create happier and more productive workers, and cater to the needs of the younger generation, the business landscape as we know it could change dramatically.
Brand New Jobs
Inevitably, technology is at the top of the list of items that will change the workforce.
Advances in technology are creating jobs that didn’t exist just five years ago. Here are some job titles taken from real job adverts. How many of them do you recognise? Social media strategist, nurse practitioner, energy manager, recycling officer, nanotechnologist, cosmetologist, e-commerce merchandiser, data communications architect, digital forensic analyst, etc.
Jobs, occupations, titles and roles evolve continuously. For every job role that becomes obsolete, three shiny new ones may appear, fulfilling a need that could never have been predicted 20 years or even 10 years ago.
Gone are the days when a single skillset would let you embark on your career. Today, the job market requires people who are multi-talented and multi-skilled. Technology has played a big role in creating such a need. Good communication skills, strong analytical skills and ability to work under the pressure of deadlines are some of the requisite skills that are being advertised.
One generation ago, not much was required to be a counter sales staff. Good language skills and the ability to convince the customers were considered adequate. However, nowadays it has become essential for the handphone salespeople, for example, to understand the pros and cons of the different iPhone, Android or Windows operating systems, and to keep themselves updated with not only the latest models available but also with those that will be coming.
Most workers also have to be aware of different cultures and practices followed in various countries. The advent of the net has shrunk the entire world into a global village. A sales manager employed in Singapore is likely to be bagging a contract from overseas. Thus employers now seek for people who are well read and able to handle varied markets and environments
Influx Of Foreign Workers
Another major change taking place in the job market is that the labour force in many of the developed countries is shrinking. Due to ageing population, OECD countries and even Singapore have been facing a shortage of productive workers. On the other hand, the World Economic Forum states that in India, the number of working-age people will increase by 335 million by 2030, almost as much as the total working-age population of the EU and the United States combined in 2000. In 1970, foreign workers accounted for 3.2 percent of Singapore’s total workforce. In 2000, it ballooned to 29.2 percent. The influx of foreigners will continue if Singapore continues to set high economic growth targets.
Diversification Of Skill sets
Companies are all launching more and more avenues to bring in business if they are to remain competitive. Metro, one of Singapore’s biggest retail names for half a century, now brings in only 7 percent in profits from its retail business. Its main business now is in property investment. Book publishers are now hiring movie directors. Books are going multimedia and publishers are offering more content online for free. The Straits Times had long expected this change and has created diverse portals like Asiaone and RazorTV.
Rise Of Personal Services
Our love of personal services, from cleaners to nannies, trainers to personal shoppers, has seen this sector flourish. The latest additions include dog-yoga instructors and virtual assistants. As we live busier lives, many of the personal services that make life easier are rapidly becoming part of work.
A celebrity or politician will have people that help them manage their Facebook sites or blogs as they have a lot of people to interact with and not enough time to do it on their own.
The ways people work, where and when they work, and what they produce have changed dramatically in just the past few years. By 2020, thousands of businesses may exist only in a virtual world as brick and mortar buildings become less and less necessary and telecommuting becomes the accepted method of conducting business. Enabled by powerful information technologies and driven by creativity and innovation, many of today’s workers are mobile, location-independent, and free to choose where, when, and for whom they will work. Place becomes secondary to task. Today, more than half of Sun Microsystem’s employees in USA work remotely.
Often their ‘normal’ eight-hour workday will be spread across a 14-hour window to accommodate collaboration across continents, quality-of-life needs, and for workers and their families to be synchronised with community and educational activities. Work will be more collaborative and less individualistic.
I also believe that in a few years’ time, all of a company’s employees will be connected via some sort of electronic networking platform. It will be an improved version of Facebook. But instead of social networking used for idle banter, it will be used to create work teams, work collaboratively on projects, and build consensus.
The Gen Y Leadership
Generation Y – the technologically-savvy youths born from 1979 to 2000 – is unlikely to follow their parents’ work attitude. A majority thinks putting in long years of effort at any one company or climbing the corporate ladder limits their quality of life.
‘In ten years, it will be gone,’ says Bruce Tulgan, author of the book about managing Gen Y called Not Everyone Gets a Trophy. ‘Instead, success will be defined not by rank or seniority but by getting what matters to you personally,’ whether that’s the chance to lead a new-product launch or being able to take winters off for snowboarding. Tulgan adds, ‘Companies already want more short-term independent contractors and consultants and fewer traditional employees because contractors are cheaper. And seniority matters less and less as time goes on, because it’s about the past, not the future.’
According to Challenger, Gray & Christmas, more than one-third of the US workforce will comprise of contract and freelance workers by the year 2012. A report by the outplacement firm also states that most of the tech job cuts can be attributed to mergers and acquisitions.
Rob Carter, chief information officer at FedEx, thinks that online game World of Warcraft offers a peek into the workplace of the future. Each team faces a fast-paced, complicated series of obstacles called quests, and each player, via his online avatar, must contribute to resolving them or else lose his place on the team. The player who contributes most gets to lead the team – until someone else contributes more. The game is intensely collaborative, constantly demanding and often surprising. ’It takes exactly the same skillset people will need more of in the future to collaborate on work projects,’ says Carter. ‘The kids are already doing it.’