6 steps away from the work of the future

There are many things that change the way we work. Six important trends already in place that will make us see work and its categories in a different light

6 steps away from the work of the future

From the First Industrial Revolution we have been stuck between two opposite feelings and emotions. On the one hand, the optimism in thinking that technological changes create, at least in the long run, jobs. On the other hand, the gloomy pessimism upon seeing high levels of unemployment and the fear of seeing jobs destroyed or carried out by “machines”, be they robots or artificial intelligence. In some respects, both the optimists and the pessimists are right. The crucial question is how to “decipher” the complexity of the labour market and how to understand and anticipate what is happening at a breakneck speed.

We have grown accustomed to thinking that technological progress is eliminating jobs and tasks that require low-level skills. From automated toll booths to supermarket checkouts we have grown used to seeing the erosion of low-paying/low-education jobs. No one shed a tear to see – for example – the disappearance of toll booth operators at the entrance to motorways. A boring and repetitive job which no one misses.

However, new forms of technology and automation are making some of the highest qualified professionals obsolete, like financial analysts, lawyers and tax experts. In 2000 Goldman Sachs employed more than six hundred financial operators. In 2017 they were only two stock traders as the algorithms managed by computer engineers could do the same job. There same thing is happening in all the traditional investment banks on Wall Street. At the same time, everything, from self-prepared online tax returns to automatic accounting learning, are replacing jobs, for example in financial services.

So what are the “mega trends” in this constantly-evolving labour market?


Most jobs created in advanced economies do not have permanent contracts, but use self-employed consultants or freelance professionals. This means that these people do not have social security “safety nets” like insurance, health coverage, social security or paid holidays. In the United States 94% of new jobs created from 2005 to 2015 fell into this category, meaning that these workers have no protection. On the one hand this causes the increased vulnerability of workers, and on the other it challenges the relevance of unions that can therefore no longer represent workers who “do not exist”. By 2027 in the United States some companies will be hiring more self-employed workers than employees.

  1. Life expectancy

The good news: it increases by about two years for every decade. In Japan, Italy and Germany, life expectancy for women is almost 90 years of age, while men already have exceeded that of the fateful 80. But let’s look at two consequences of constantly increasing life expectancy. Firstly, can we really expect to enjoy a good pension for twenty years of our life? Recently newspapers have reported that in Italy there are more than 700,000 people who have been receiving a pension since 1982. In other words, they have been retired for at least 35 years; in most cases longer than they were employed.

Secondly, we have always seen our lives as divided into three parts. We go to school and university up to 22-24 years of age, we work for about 35-40 years and then we retire at 65. But we need to rethink this mentality and realise that we have one life of continuous learning in front to us. It’s inconceivable to think that once we graduate we’ll be fine for the rest of our lives. On the contrary, our skills have an average duration of 5 years, which shortens more and more due to the speed of production cycles. Therefore, we have to invest in our education and in our ability to renew ourselves.

  1. New professions

Technology creates more jobs than it destroys, but change is painful. A recent McKinsey study revealed that 56% of new jobs are in new professions. If you have a look at the World Economic Forum careers’ page, you will see the types of professionals they are looking for: artificial intelligence experts, cyber-security specialists, internet governance, social media, startups, machine learning, robotics, 3D printing, autonomous vehicles, blockchain, and so on. Wages are skyrocketing in the labour market for new professions and slowly shrinking for traditional ones.

  1. Women

They constitute 52% of the population, but they are still underpaid and employed in positions that are below their skill level. But I am convinced that the future belongs to women. Why? Because they tend to possess the human characteristics that will give them an advantage in the new jobs of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Like the capacity for collaboration (instead of competition), empathy, creativity, listening and learning.

  1. Stress & Exhaustion

Running longer – life expectancies – and doing it faster, requires effort. Emotional, physical and psychological. As individuals we need to take this into account and develop methods to charge our batteries and work for companies and leaders who do not expect us to work for 60 hours a week. Some advice: switch off your smartphone from 8 in the evening to 8 in the morning, being reachable 24/7 does not help and leads directly to a nervous breakdown.

  1. By 2030, 70% of the workforce will be millennials, people born between 1980 and 2000.

The values of this generation are different from those of the baby boomers. In a recent university lesson I held, a young man said: “We are not like you: we don’t work 40 years for a gold watch”, a real attack on a way of thinking in which “company loyalty” is a fundamental value.

Given the changes in the labour market, we must also redesign organisations. We can no longer build and use “mechanical” organisations, descendants of the First Industrial Revolution, in which the worker was considered just a replaceable “spare part”. We cannot assume that public sector bureaucratic models will still work. We must redesign organisations, bearing in mind that people must be empowered, not controlled or forced to live with the recurring nightmare of losing their job and forsaking a dignified life.

We cannot pay new graduates 500 euros a month, or worse, expect them to work for free. Science and psychology have provided hundreds of studies and research papers showing that knowledge workers are motivated by purpose, autonomy, their capacity of self-improvement and a sense of correctness and transparency. As long as we continue to deal with people who use the carrot and the stick, it will simply not work.

Finally, the leadership model must radically change: we no longer have use for despotic leaders who think they know everything and impart orders. We need leaders who make people grow with respect and responsibility for clear objectives and with a purpose that is more relevant than pure profit maximisation.

An interesting challenge, don’t you think?


Paolo Gallo

Paolo Gallo

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