Does the population explosion and recession mean a change to how we work forever?

Posted on December 15, 2011

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I stumbled across worldometers.info the other day – full of truly impressive and overwhelming data that made me think about the future of the jobs market in a big way.

It’s possible that population explosion will seriously affect the numbers that will continue to stay in long-term unemployment; it’ll change the pools where we will find talent and it will affect the nature of the contracts we draw up with employers. It’s going to change the nature of reward. And it’s going to cause pain. That’s what it feels like.

Put simply, there may just not be enough work for all the people coming into the world. Since the 7 billionth person came into the world a further 9 million have been added.

I think the assumption that when this recession all ends (and there’s an assumption) then things will go back to how they once were. Maybe not. Maybe today’s jobs pain is here to stay. Prior to Obama’s election unemployment stood at 5%. It is now around 10%. Some economists don’t think it will fall much below 7.5% for the long-term. The technology and internet sector which the US can be famed for has bought it attention, but not jobs.

The Arab Spring that brought down the governments of Tunisia and Egypt earlier this year was triggered in part by the lack of decent work for young people. That in turn hasn’t resulted in sudden econmic growth – if anything it will cause more hardship before things can get better.

The population explosion in emerging markets is also driving up the number of graduates available to employees. India will produce 8 times as many graduates than the UK and in a market where costs are considerably lower that means that competition for employment when all this settles down may well have shifted to a totally different pool.

Take a look at TopCoder for example. It has over 300,000 software developers in its community. It does not have one employee that has a regular salary paid, nor does anyone have any benefits or promotions – they are all freelancers.

Each time it has a contract it offers each of the freelancers mini-competitions to see who can develop the best code – so it’s all about who can develop the best product, tailored for this client’s needs and all in the quickest time.

Each year these is a ‘TopCoder’ competition – the software engineer who is named champion of the year and a $250,000 prize at an event in Las Vegas. There are many top performers and they can earn well in excess of $500,000 per annum – much more than a regular salary.

These coders are all highly engaged with the company, work long hours and have enormous loyalty.

Or you may want to try oDesk. A similar set-up. Basically, oDesk is outsourcing gone wild. It’s the outsourcing model taken to the level of the individual worker, and it is treating the labour market as a global market.

Looking at the trends – and it’s hard to be certain given the numbers that are leaving employment for forced reasons – but the ONS now records that 4over 4 million Britons are registered as self-employed (the highest level since records began.)

This is how the world of work could well change. How are we all equipped to face that, and how will that drive a further wedge between the haves and the have nots?

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