Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Why Look For A Job When All You Need Is Work?

The world is experiencing a great paradigm shift towards the predominantly
"dejobbed” work environment i.e. more and more organizations are getting work done without hiring full-timers for conventional jobs.

Dejobbing is fast becoming a global phenomenon and it is already happening in the developed world. It has already affected businesses in developing nations like Malaysia that have relatively just begun the industrialization process.

When Abdullah Ahmad Badawi first took over as Prime Minister, he was promoting the need for Malaysia to shift towards a K-economy. It is sad that now four years hence, he seems to have somewhat hopped off that bandwagon. Ours is an economy and business culture at a threshold and the government needs to be concerned with "the future of work" in the country in order to effectively guide Malaysia’s economic transition as it moves towards the knowledge-based economy.

The great number of foreign manual workers in the country is sure sign that Malaysia is no longer competitive as a manufacturing industry destination for MNCs. Malaysians need to be more competitive and competent in the services sector especially when its geographical location makes it an ideal logistics hub servicing a vast hinterlnd that leads all the way to China! The need for proper government policies in education and social/cultural engineering has never been more exigent.

Many businesspeople foresee a blossoming of 21st-century capitalism and greatly expanding prosperity with vast new markets developing (especially in Asia) but at the same time, we are heading into a very traumatic economic transition, and after the trauma subsides, most of us will find we are not working in jobs anymore.

Dejobbing and its Ramifications

It is getting more and more difficult for today’s traditional workplace to function effectively in our global networked economy. Changing technologies is rapidly consolidating familiar job functions. The Internet and other new forms of communication are creating the “virtual corporation” and “telecommuting.” The “death of distance” means that independent contractors can work in different time zones from their employers, a form of “distributed work.”

Major questions arise as to what this huge revolution means to workers and managers; will the virtual corporation disenfranchise the individual or open new pathways for empowerment? How will our psyches adapt to a world that offers surprising new definitions of work? How will we survive?

One thing is for certain though; there will always be enormous amounts of work to do, but the work will not be contained in the familiar envelopes we call jobs.

Losing a job is one thing but losing the very concept of the job as the way we organize work is another. Yet the world’s leading economies are increasingly being driven by the proliferation of digital technologies and are hurtling towards a time when working in jobs as we know them will not be the predominant way we get things done.

The new world of work is going to exist as much in cyberspace as it does in a physical place. In this Digital Age, we will still work. We will still earn livings. We will still produce things and provide services. But it is likely that the majority of us will not go off to “jobs” each day! Some people will of course. We will still need construction workers to build houses, truck drivers to make physical deliveries, nurses to tend to the sick, cooks to prepare food, park attendants to maintain the parks. Somebody will still have to pick up the garbage.

But the bulk of the economy will shift toward “knowledge work,” which will handle information rather than physical things. The precursors of these knowledge workers are those who today work in the realm of ideas-software engineers, research scientists, investment bankers, management consultants, and graphic artists-to name just a few.

These fields of knowledge work will expand, as more work becomes “mind” work and can be carried out by increasingly sophisticated digital technologies. But these technologies will begin to displace large numbers of service workers, such as travel agents, insurance agents, real estate agents and bank tellers, and even many professionals, such as accountants and lawyers, who may work with information today but still do tasks that digital technologies will do more efficiently.

In the prophetic words of management guru, Tom Peters; “90% of white collar jobs in the U.S. will either be destroyed or altered beyond recognition in the next 5 to 10 years.”

· Technology will let workers work independently of organizations

The transformations we see today are so large we have to go back almost 200
years to the coming of industrialization to find a comparable change. The means
of production of the Industrial Age were huge, expensive machines that took
great amounts of capital to build and needed many workers to run. These
favored greater and greater amounts of centralization, specialization and

That led to hierarchal bureaucracies to control gargantuan operations as well as
vast economies of scale used to produce identical products for a mass market.
Almost all organizations in the society eventually emulated that form.

However, in the Digital Age, means of production will be inexpensive; small
computers and other digital technologies that very soon will be housed in
everyone’s home or will move with individuals. These technologies tend to
radically decentralize organizations and empower individuals. They lead to
flattened management systems that can quickly adapt to the leaner operations.
Indeed all the equipment you need to run a multimillion corporation – cellular
phone and pocket computer-can be crammed into an attache’ case.

The vastly empowered individual at a networked computer workstation will
soon command as much creative power as a factory tycoon of the industrial era
and the communications power of a broadcast tycoon of the television era. Such
is the power of emerging technologies.

This vastly empowered individual will be the basic unit of the new economy and
often will work independently of any formal organization, much as a consultant
or an independent contractor does today.

The majority of knowledge workers will be free to choose where and when they

want to work. Night owls will be able to work nocturnal hours. Those who like the
mountains or tropical islands will move there.

· The importance of large corporations will diminish

The traditional large corporation almost certainly will fade in its importance
and go through some transformation that will qualify it as a different life form.
Corporations serve three basic functions today: they provide the umbrellas to
bring workers of varied skills together, they provide the means to finance the
production of products or services and they carry the brand names that market
the products to the public.

It will not be long before information technologies serve those same three functions: they tie together workers of various skills. They connect those with the money with those with the ideas. And they soon will be used to communicate the value of the product to the public.

A crude prototype of this emerging economy of tomorrow can be seen in Silicon
Valley. The valley is filled with small, creative firms that rise and fall on the
strength of their ideas. The engineers and designers are constantly switching
companies and coming together for new projects. Almost none of the companies
gets too big or attains the status of a household word before more nimble
competitors supercede it.

It is obvious that although we certainly have not seen the end of the large
corporation per se, most large and medium-sized corporations will become
increasingly handicapped in a world that will play to the strengths of the small
and quick.

This is why we are seeing today’s corporations in such a panic to change. As
mentioned earlier, during the Industrial Age, work was packaged into “jobs” to
fit the demands of a new kind of workplace, and the numbers of those jobs grew
along with the appearance of large factories and bureaucracies.

In our own time, as those big workplaces are shrinking and being automated, the
work is once again being repackaged to meet the new economic realities. This
time the transformation represents nothing less than the “dejobbing” of the
developed world. This dejobbing takes two forms: the quantitative and the

· The quantitative and qualitative aspects of dejobbing

In the quantitative sense, dejobbing is simply a game of numbers: the same work
that used to require 100 workers a few years ago may be done by 50 today-and
maybe by 10 tomorrow. This of course is old shoe as we have been turning
manufacturing tasks over to machines for almost 200 years. In the 1950s, 33% of
the US labor force were employed in manufacturing. By the 1990s, that number
dropped to less than 17%.

Advanced robotics and the introduction of smarter digital machines eventually
will take over almost all the tasks on the assembly floor. Indeed, many
manufacturers may need almost no manual workers within 20 years.

The service sector will be the most affected next. Already, much of the repetitive
jobs done by clerical workers and secretaries are increasingly being done more
cheaply and efficiently with information technologies. A case in point is the one
of bank tellers vs. ATMs. An ATM can conduct 2,000 transactions a day, 168
hours a week compared with 200 transactions and about 40 hours for a teller.
The ATM’s annual cost of about USD22,000 is probably cheaper than a full-time
employee with benefits!

It is obvious that not just blue-collar jobs are disappearing. White-collar jobs
are disappearing even faster, and still more of them are at risk. The white-collar
folks are the common folk today. In the US, they represent six out of ten

There is a qualitative shift going on too. It is not just that fewer of the old-style
jobs are left. It is that the work situations encouraged by the new technological
and economic realities are not jobs in the traditional sense; and a great deal of
what is being done in today’s organizations is done by people who do not have “a
real job.” The emergence of these new work practices that were mainly in the
form of widespread use of outsourcing and the hiring of “independent
contractors” and temporary workers resulted in the severe layoffs suffered by
American factory workers in the 1980s, and white-collar office workers from the
early 90s to this day.

Corporations began to farm out much of their nonessential work to smaller firms
or individuals. They used consultants when they needed professional advice and
used temps when they needed assembly or clerical work done.

The “temping” practice has become so widespread that even as far back as 1993,

Manpower Temporary Services Inc. “employed” far more people (about
560,000), than General Motors (365,000), or IBM (330,000). And according to its
website, the company now “employs” more than 1,000,000 people and although
the figures for GM and IBM are not available, it can be inferred that they have

· Effects of Reengineering the Work

None of the changes in the past 20 years promises to have so much impact on the
workplace and jobs as the redesign of work processes, called reengineering.

Increasingly in recent years, new management theories have emerged and
executives began to adopt them with the fervor of a newfound religion. The
theories embraced several common themes: decentralized decision making,
empower workers, form flexible teams.

Alas, this “reengineering craze” is no coincidence. These management theories
simply could not be carried out without information technologies permeating
the workplace and allowing workers access to information they need to make
informed decisions.

The inevitable result of reengineering is layoffs although the purpose of
reengineering is seldom staff reduction per se. Saving time is just as important.
Nevertheless the “victims” tended to be the middle managers that previously
move information around organizations and kept executives informed. Recent
statistics on downsizing showed that middle managers made up more than 1 in 5
layoffs, though they only make up I in 10 workers.

Another statistic shows that corporate reengineering in the US has resulted in
the elimination of more than 20 million jobs in the last 20 years, at a rate of
between 1 and 2.5 million jobs lost annually. What is more significant is that
only a fraction of the total companies have begun this reengineering process.

· Jobs are change inhibitors

Organizations are increasingly forced to make continued and rapid changes to
navigate in the turbulence of the fast-moving currents of today’s marketplace.
These changes however, would not take so much effort if their organization
structures, procedures, values, and roles were more change-worthy. Peter
Drucker recently said that “rapid knowledge-based change imposes one clear
imperative: every organization has to build in the management of change into its
very structures.”

The difficulty is that the job itself is proving part of the problem, not part of the
solution. That little packet of responsibility (job description), rewarded in
accordance with a fixed formula (pay level), and a single reporting relationship
(place in the chain of command) is a roadblock on the highway of change.

We are witnessing a pressing search for speed in today’s work world: faster
product development, faster production, faster delivery, faster information
processing, faster service, and faster implementation of all the changes
necessary to keep up with changes in the marketplace. We are seeing the
emergence of change-driven style operations and recent events have simply
capped the situation. And jobs are also disappearing as a result.

Because conventional jobs inhibit flexibility and speedy response to the threats
and opportunities of a rapidly changing market, many organizations are turning
over even their most important tasks to temporary and contract workers or to
external vendors. That way, when conditions change outside the organization,
there is no turf guardian inside whose livelihood depends on not changing how
things are done. Though this strategy has its pitfalls, the fact remains that it
represents one legitimate response to a serious problem.

· The Twenty-first-Century Worker; A Career Guide

All jobs in today’s economy are temporary! The two reasons for this are:

(a) the work arrangements itself (the “job”) is a social artifact on the wane,
along with the conditions that created it; and so it is only temporarily a
significant part of the economic scene

(b) the work arrangements that are taking its place, whatever their details are
themselves temporary in the sense that they are created to meet the
productivity needs in an immediate but changing situation.

Thus, any so-called full-time job is only contingent upon a continuing need for
what the employee does. And needs can change overnight!

Employment security is being redefined. Security now resides in the person
rather than the position, and in a cluster of qualities that have nothing to do with the organization’s policies or practices.

Ones security will increasingly depend on the ability to develop three characteristics as a worker and as a person:

1. Employability: A worker’s security will come primarily from him being an
attractive prospect to employers, and that attractiveness involves having the
abilities and attitudes the employer needs at that moment. Ironically, the
employers’ need is likely to be created by the very changes that destroyed
traditional job security!

2. Vendor-mindedness: Being a traditional, loyal employee is no longer an asset.
It has, turned into a liability. The time has come to stop thinking like an
employee and start thinking like an external vendor who has been hired to
complete a specific task.

3. Resiliency: Organizations today operate in such a volatile and turbulent
environment that no arrangement serves them for very long. What a worker
will need (both for the organization’s and worker’s sake) is the ability to bend
but not break, to let go readily of the outdated and learn the new, to bounce
back quickly from disappointment, to live with high levels of uncertainty, and
to find security from within rather than without.

These abilities will provide the worker with the only kind of security that exists

today, because they will fit the worker for what is going to be the work world of
the foreseeable future: the project and an organization built around a changing
mix of projects!

· The Twenty-first-Century Worker; The Profile

The worker of the future will need to be a “self-developing person,” “one who
uses personal agency,” or “one who can adapt to change.” The worker of the
future will need to be resilient and adopt an attitude of “positive uncertainty,”
thereby shedding obsolete beliefs and narrow views of the past in order to
develop a future sense. The following are considered the profile of such a worker
(Note how it reflects basic shifts in thinking and newly evolved modes of action) :
- Does not feel entitled.
- Assumes responsibility for the future.
- Assumes a lifelong learning responsibility.
- Dismisses obsolete beliefs about work.
- Does not take any job for granted.
- Assumes that personal involvement is the key to success.
- Depends on own initiative.
- Views the future with vision and imagination.
- Has little fear of change.
- Can deal with uncertainty and ambiguity.
- Believes creativity is a basic requirement.
- Believes good interpersonal relations is an employee’s responsibility.
- Is completely receptive to new ideas.
- Assumes that there are few guarantees for the future.
- Assumes that the organization does not owe anyone a career.
- Is very functional in basic skills.
- Creates effective changes in work assignments.
- Cooperates with teams of workers and supervisors.
- Recognizes desirability of being multi-tasking and multi-skilled.
- Develops methods to improve effectiveness of job assignment.
- Exhibits high levels of resourcefulness and imagination.
- Takes advantage of opportunities to develop skills and increase learning.
- Develops overview and knowledge of work environment and company purpose.
- Demonstrates how products can be improved.
- Assumes total responsibility for career development.
- Assumes responsibility for own social security and retirement planning and


The Future Is Already With Us

The disappearance of jobs is, with every passing month, more and more a “change that has already happened.” Even if one is not innovation-minded, one still has to deal with this change, for it is one of those shifts in the socio-economic environment guaranteed to render obsolete the people and institutions that deny it!

Conversely, individuals and organizations that truly understand and embrace this change will be able to capitalize upon it.

Next: Worker social security and how it is achieved as opposed to "conventional" Employee Benefits


Mad Dog said...

The future is already with us, are we ready or not is no longer a meaningful question to ask as it is happening now.

It is either you swim in it or you are made obsolete by it.

SOHO will be the space to watch out in the coming future i presume. Each and every individual become a trade skill item.

The paradigm shift require one to be versatile , open and agile. The living skills needed today is totally a different landscape from the traditional corporate world.

Yes, I hear the call of The future demands us to change, to keep on living.


KS Cheah said...

Hi Maddie,

As an IT worker you would be living this paradigm shift in your day to day worklife.

Watch the mindset and mind the skillsets.