We hear of auto factories and other firms closing or moving off shore.
Most of us cannot understand the wording for many of the jobs open in the new information age. We need work. It is important not only for income but social stability.
The first thing a person asks you after introduction is what do you do. The meaning is clear: if I know what you do I also know who you are.
For the last 20 years, the issue had been whether we will have enough workers for all of the work required for a modern economy.
Researchers were predicting that there would be only three people in the workforce for every retiree to support everyone in retirement.
The number might even fall lower to only one person in the workforce supporting one retired person. That would be scary. But the researchers hadn’t calculated on the rise of robots.
Robots are doing work in factories and on farms. We all experience the phone answered by a machine. That is not very friendly. But it is more productive.
We would not have enough people to answer the telephone if everyone called for a bus schedule. Young people have quickly adapted to using their smartphone to determine their transport options.
How many people can remember when you paid a person at the bridge toll booth. These jobs may have been monotonous, but these activities provided reasonable work and pay for many people. The argument is now where will work come from.
It is clear that no one can predict what work activities will be like in the future. There was no smartphone 20 years ago. Many of the largest companies in the world like Google and Facebook did not exist two decades ago.
There’s a good chance firms of the future will just be holding organisations for groups with skills. The age of companies may be over.
There is only one company that remains on the New York Stock Exchange from the day the exchange opened in 1892. It is General Electric.
This global firm survived by changing its products and services. It is now one of the world’s leading health insurance and financial firms and still makes a few electric products like aircraft engines.
What we do know is that organisations will be different places and do different things to survive and work must adapt. We do know the shape of future work.
New work in old and new places
Almost all of the current research points to some specific characteristics shaping work. Work will be done by groups who create things, not by people who make things: robots will make products.
Clusters of people with complementary skills will organise themselves in certain ways and create work or attract efforts to them.
Skills pools will define work in the future. We also know people with similar skills will congregate together in similar places.
This will alter where buildings will be built and how we use built form. Already closed door offices are passe’ in large commercial buildings replaced by work centres that change daily.
Firms will be alliances of internal syndicates that compete for work internally as well as seek external opportunities to sell their services.
This change in work patterns is already observable in many fields. Education is one of the leaders with a much larger contingent workforce than core workers.
Finance is moving in this direction. Financial institutions like banks offer their high end services such as mortgages through brokers who work all over the city for many organisations not just the bank.
Another factor is putting people with skills in preferred places. Thus a new form of community is arising across the world, where smart workers are defining where work will locate.
These new places will drive local and national economies.
Clearly, there will school, hospitals and some large organisations with big job requirements but the preponderance of evidence is that even these organisations are moving to smaller more mobile delivery consortiums. So, what does this mean for communities, cities, towns and central places?
Many commentators are suggesting that large commercial buildings will become beehives of smaller working groups that use space on a time basis with long term rents paid to build management firms renting spaces to collections of mobile users.
The other aspect of this will be that workers prefer closer proximity to where they work to where they live because the worker will want more integrated flexible lifestyles.
The long separating commutes for families to work and play will reduce. A preference for better integrated living and working places is already emerging.
The great places of the future will be determined by how close living and working are integrated into the same or near the same places.
Technology will bring the work to a connected social quality of the community. Five years from now people will ask “where do you live?” and that will define what you do and how you do it.
Professor Edward Blakely holds acting and emeritus professorships at Universities in Australia, the US and Africa. He is the Greater Sydney Commissioner for West Central, which covers the Cumberland, Parramatta, Blacktown and The Hills local government areas. He is an active advisor for many cities and international organisations including the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. These are my views not those of the Greater Sydney Commission or any organisation that I am affiliated with. Let’s make a conversation! Listen to weekly radio Cityscape radio podcast at 2Ser FM radio streamed @ http://www.2ser.com/on-air/streaming