The New Work Ethic: 10 Rules To Live By When Job Uncertainties Are Growing

by R Jagannathan - Jun 11, 2016 01:40 PM +05:30 IST
The New Work Ethic: 10 Rules To Live By When Job Uncertainties Are Growing Indian staff work at a call-centre in Gurgaon on the outskirts of New Delhi. Getty Images
    • The Indian economy has a problem
    • It is not creating enough jobs
    • Even in the high-paying skilled sectors like software services, automation is slowing down hiring
    • One of the biggest myths generated by the 20th century is the concept of work-life balance

The Indian economy has a problem. It is not creating enough jobs, even while 12 million people join the workforce every year. It is not creating quality jobs for the bulk of its people, with most new manufacturing jobs now accruing to contract workers. In India’s biggest manufacturing companies, contract labour has edged up to nearly half the workforce.

In China, robots have apparently replaced 60,000 workers at a Foxconn a factory that makes iPhones for Apple. When Foxconn comes to India, it will not hire by the thousand. It will Make in India, but not necessarily Hire in India (at least, not on the scale we expect).

Even in the high-paying skilled sectors like software services, automation is slowing down hiring. Wipro recently decided to use Holmes, an artificial intelligence tool that will free 3,000 engineers from doing these kinds of software jobs.

In the last quarter, Wipro, HCL Technologies and Tech Mahindra saw a net reduction in employee inductions. The Economic Times reported some time back that automation had led to a sharp 24 percent fall in the Big Five’s net rate of hiring.

As we wrote in Swarajya earlier quoting the UNDP’s Human Development Report for 2015:

The digital revolution has created new opportunities, but has also given rise to new challenges, such as irregular contracts and short-term work, which are asymmetrically distributed between highly skilled and unskilled workers… (The) technological revolution presents skill-biased technical change: the idea that the net effect of new technologies reduces demand for less skilled workers while increasing demand for highly skilled ones. By definition, such change favours people with higher human capital, polarising work opportunities.

In plainspeak, this means a few highly-skilled people will get enormous wages, but the rest will wallow at the mass end, with much lower earnings, unpredictable earnings, and poor quality of jobs.

We are entering a new world here, where the old ideal of a permanent job is no longer relevant. Also increasingly irrelevant is the idea of employer loyalty, when the reverse is not going to hold good. Few employers are willing to bleed when their industry is being disrupted by technology or globalisation.

We need a new ethic for this new age, where jobs may appear and disappear suddenly, where wages may shoot up suddenly due to a skill shortage, but fall equally dramatically when a skill is available in abundance. The only rule that will serve you in good stead is constant upgradation of skills.

When Java skills are becoming commonplace, learn robotics and artificial intelligence. At the other end of the scale, if you are a chauffeur, you should learn garage work or run a puncture shop on the side, for Google is promising driverless cars too.

When the Chinese say “May you live in interesting times”, they do not mean it as a blessing, but a curse. It means the certainties in your world will disappear. This is the world we are entering.Here are 10 rules to live by in “interesting times”.

One, invest in yourself, by constantly upskilling yourselves so that you have alternatives when the current job outlives its utility for your employer. There are now so many online courses offering so many skills, that one should opt for some new course at least one or twice a year. Some of the certificates are even valid for employment.

Two, invest more, spend less. You need to save more when incomes can become unpredictable. You may make a killing in one job, and then lose it all of a sudden. You need a nest-egg to see you through difficult times.

Three, develop loyalty to the job, not the job-giver. What is valuable is the reputation you acquire by doing a good job, not by staying loyal to an employer. Even good employers have to let you go when competition threatens their existence. So focus on developing a good reputation for competence and delivery, and not on proving loyalty to one firm.

Four, move jobs and/or responsibilities once in three to five years. There is not much you can learn if you stay in the same job or responsibility or organisational space for a decade. It is comfortable to stay in the same company or job, but comfort generates complacency. Even when you remain in the same company, seek new roles and responsibilities. The new job market is all about learning and risk-taking. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Five, never plan on retirement. One of the biggest myths generated by the 20th century is the concept of work-life balance. Are work and life different? Is work not a part of life? Work may need compensation with leisure; 16 hours of wakefulness requires you to take eight hours of sleep.

But the idea of work and life as binary opposites is meaningless. Why not then call for life-leisure balance – which means work to take up available time in your life. Every human being must plan to work as long as he/she is mentally and physically able to do so.

Six, start a side business, something you can do when you are not doing your main job – or when you have got the pink slip. It could be stock trading, or a small online venture that requires little initial capital. It could even be a hobby that may get you an angel investor if it seems scalable.

Only a few such businesses will succeed, but the important thing is to enjoy it as a hobby too. It’s a bit like investing in art; the bright young artist whose work you bought may never become a Husain, but don’t buy it if its very sight on your wall distresses you.

Seven, don’t always assume that you change jobs only for higher pay or promotion. Sometimes, it may even be worth taking a pay cut to learn a new job or skill.

Eight, be prepared to move physically – town, state, or country. New opportunities may not always present themselves in your preferred city, next to your mother-in-law’s place. Mobility is key to better jobs.

Nine, marry a spouse who has a job, and has similar attitudes to work. If jobs are going to come and go, it makes sense to have someone capable of earning an income when you are down and out. And vice-versa.

Ten, avoid taking on huge liabilities as long as possible. Investing in a high-cost house very early in life is one example. A house should not be seen as investment; it is a monthly liability, unless, of course, you have all the cash in your bank account and need no loan.

Even then, it is not an investment you can encash quickly. It can take six months or more to sell a house. It is not a liquid investment. Buying houses is for later in life, when you have been there, done that, and want to settle for a little less excitement in your life.

You don’t need a Chinese curse to know you live in interesting times. You are already in one. So think differently from what your dad or mom did when they first went to work.

Jagannathan is Editorial Director, Swarajya. He tweets at @TheJaggi.
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