The Future Work Economy

A topic I have been thinking about for a while now is what is the future of work, and of employment. There are a number of questions which come up, to which I must say I don’t have any answers.

One question I think about is the expected mismatch between the demand and availability of work in the future. Another is about the possible mismatch between skills requirement and availability.

Coming to the question of expected mismatch between work demand and availability, one dimension we need to consider, when building future scenarios is overall population. We are told repeatedly that technology is meant to make our lives easier, so we can spend more time with our loved ones. While thats a nice idea, what that means is that in the future, we are likely going to see much more work being automated at a global level, with people having to work less and less. This means lower demand for human resources, which could lead to a future this op-ed from Washington Post describes.

That said, however, there is another aspect which we need to consider. This is the fact that while a number of traditional occupations might not be around a few decades from now, there are likely going to be a number of new occupations, or even industries which could be generated over a period of time, as this piece from University of Kent tells us. While video games have been around for a while, no one could have anticipated the level of growth the gaming industry would see, for instance. New occupations and industries, of course, would require different skills, something we need to prepare our children for.

The other dimension is the mismatch between skills demand and availability. With Europe growing older, for instance, Europe will likely need to import workers, and with Africa growing younger, its quite simple to see where the additional workers required would come from.

This is an illustration of possible imbalances we could see in the future. The larger point here is this … the regions of the world which are well-off are likely to have fewer people in working age-groups in the future, while the regions which would have larger working-age populations would likely be unable to give access to the kind of education required to meet the needs of the job market.

Does this mean that it might be important for certain regions of the world to subsidise education and skill-building in other parts of the world? Should Japan, for instance, invest in education/skill-building in India? In other words, are we headed toward a far more integrated world as the viable solution to the problems of tomorrow?

India Thoughts

This is another one based on some thoughts which came to me as i am reading The Discovery of India. Something Panditji wrote about the people of India:

I felt they had vast stores of suppressed energy and ability, and I wanted to release these and make them feel young and vital again. India, constituted as she is, cannot play a secondary part in the world. She will either count for a great deal, or not count at all.

First of all, its interesting to see Panditji’s foresight. Something we are getting to see today, more than half a century after independence, as India takes centre-stage in matters of the world. Today we are seeing the stores of energy, ambition and vitality which are displaying themselves as a fresh burst of activity in a diverse set of areas across the spectrum of human activity. The last decade or so has shown this.

However, the point to look at here is that it took around half a century to reach there. To what extent was our socialist economic framework responsible for this delay, i wouldnt be able to say (not being an economist, but inviting students of economics, and of India to comment their thoughts), but i do believe that large amount of the infrastructure developed in the early days as an independent nation is playing, and i believe will continue to play a vital role in this resurgence. Whether it be the mega steel plants, shipyards, or the railways or the postal infrastructure, or IITs, i believe this has played an important role in powering us to where we are. Though i do believe we stretched it a bit, and maybe some of the changed brought about by Dr. Manmohan Singh, for example, could have been maybe done a decade earlier. But then, i am speaking with the benefit of hindsight, and hindsight is always 6/6, so dont mind me.


Sometimes i wonder whether i get to know the news thats impacting me or not? At times its more appropriate to think that we get to see the news that the editors of the news channels or newspapers believe we should be seeing, and this is where the media gets to define the scope and topic of debate in society. But there are aspects which probably get left out in all this because they arent very important, maybe.

Let me explain what i am talking about. Those of us who have followed politics in India for some time now will remember how the rise in prices of onions cast its spell over the elections in four states in India. Those of us will also remember the coverage the rise in prices of onions, an essential to Indian cooking, got in the political debates. For those of us who dont remember, you could read bits about it here or here.

What i am concerned about is how little space is being given to the price rise that we are seeing today. Yes, there is talk about it somewhere in between the columns on the inner pages. One could say that this is because there arent any elections round the corner thats why the price rise isnt as important an issue to be covered as it was a decade ago. But then this would imply that even then the coverage wasnt of price rise for an essential, but was coverage of an election issue, and this would imply that the debate is not about price rise and its impact on people but about elections and the impact of the price rise on elections. Now i am not saying that price rise hasnt got coverage but not the way when elections were round the corner.

Whats interesting about the price rise is who benefits from it. The vegetable walla told wife that if a Cauliflower is bought for Re. 1 from the farmer it is sold for Rs. 25 in the market. This means that the benefit of this price rise doesnt pass to the farmer but to a set of traders, middlemen if you may in the supply chain, and this is an aspect which not many seem to be talking about. Shouldnt this be something which should be the core of the debate and shouldnt this debate be at the core of the discussion in the country? To me, i believe, the two areas which should dominate the debate in the country are the impact of this price rise on common people and of course the ongoing negotiations at Copenhagen, which again are inspiring quite a bit of cynicism, like the one i read somewhere (dont remember where) … If the climate were a bank, it would have been saved.

Are there any areas which you think we need to focus on more as a nation? Please do write your comments, maybe we could start something?

Construction …

Just a thought … There is the construction boom. If you have been to Gurgaon, you would see the amount of new construction activity which is happening here. This is a very nice sign. It is a sure indicator of the growth of the city, and reflects on the amount of value that is being generated. This is a wonderful thing. Only concern i see here … Why are we not having higher and higher buildings being constructed?

I am not just talking about Gurgaon here, but in all parts of the country. What is happening is that we are constructing buildings which are short. As a result, more and more land has to be brought under construction, in order to accommodate the same set of people, or to build the same number of housing units, or the same number of office blocks. While this by itself may not be an issue, this has the potential of snowballing into a situation where more and more of agricultural land is taken up for construction purposes. This is already happening in parts of the country, from what i understand from my interactions with people from different parts of the country, and this is not a nice thing to be happening, considering that if we keep going this way, we would end up having major food shortfall in the coming years.

All comments invited …