Shock! Gig Economy Is Not The Only Show In Town

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The future workforce of Britain – where the jobs of the future are  going to be and what they are like – has been spotlighted by new research. And the findings will surprise you.

The Changing World of Work, by NIESR’s Jonny Runge (edited by Becky Wright), will be premiered at the Unions21 conference tomorrow.  In a landscape over-populated by talk of robotics, artificial intelligence and the use of technology, one universal truth is that certain industries will rise, and others will begin or continue their descent in the labour market.

This gives three inescapable questions:

  • Where will workers of the near future be?
  • How will they be represented at work?
  • What changes will we need to make in light of the future of work?

For trade unions, the questions are all the more pressing – existential really, given the low levels of union membership amongst the young and also amongst certain sectors pf the economy – retail, hospitality, and social care – especially when the predominant form of employment is precarious.

There are challenges to an “establishment” view that unions are technophobes and laggards when it comes to connecting with the so-called “Young Core Workers”. There is excellent work being done by the TUC and the Good Innovations outfit.  But a key point of the new research is that crucial as it is, we should not put all our eggs in the one Gig economy basket.

This is interesting and innovative territory, and it seems to me to be well-founded.  Runge and Wright have identified and tried to extrapolate  five key  influences on the labour market – demography (growing and ageing population will lead to increase demand/consumption in particular sectors), technology (automation of certain human-only occupations will take place,  but  the extent is arguable), productivity (and what is the post-crash stagnation  become entrenched in the short  to medium term), globalisation (certainly a factor,  but its impact now obscured by resurgent nationalism and protectionism), and changing contractual arrangements of certain services (from, yes,  worker-status contracts (as opposed to employee status), demands  for  a better work-life balance, and  the rise of the “collaborative economy”).

Clearly there is a degree of uncertainty about some of these influences, but using data from the estimable UKCES, Runge and Wright have identified three industries with expected high employment growth – the retail trade (surprised?) hospitality and management services.

Collectively, these three sectors will see employment growth by an estimated 900,000 jobs in the period to 2024, accounting for half of all the new jobs in the UK economy is this period.  There is a noticeable decline in self-employment, a growth in those in workers in these sectors with at least a first degree, and  no dramatic change in the balance between part-time and full-time working, or between percentages of men and women employed.

Three “ones to watch” are also suggested – Construction, Social Work and Information Technology, who between them are projected to add over 600,000 jobs between now and 2024.

The report concludes with a brief over view of UKCES employment projections for over 70 industries, with a preliminary view on the likely impact of Brexit.

From the perspective or worker representation and employee voice, this analysis – with its detailed demographic, hours-worked and occupational breakdown – is very helpful indeed.  The snapshots of the level of  union membership and collective bargaining  give grounds for cautions optimism  that there is a platform for trade union growth in each sector.

Runge and Wright give us the answer to the first of our three questions, and paint a vivid picture of the dynamics and challenges of union organising in these sectors.

Whether it is the overall constructive engagement with workforces that is part of the Taylor review, or practical questions of the extent to which unions focus on particular sectors, geographies and roles, the Changing World of Work is an important contribution.

The Changing World of Work can be downloaded here.

Full disclosure:  I am a board member of Unions21, on whose website this piece also appears

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