Future Skills: Gig Economy Precariat

What must a digital day labourer be able to do in an uncertain world? Which skills are required?
15 October, 2020 by
Future Skills: Gig-Economy-Prekariat
GDI Gottlieb Duttweiler Institute

The following text is based on an extract from the study "Future Skills", which you can obtain from our website.

The Gig Economy Precariat scenario describes a world in which there is scarcity due to technological unemployment. Machines have taken over human labour at such a speed that neither the job market nor the welfare state can cope. Existing degrees of freedom have not been restricted, however, since anything is still possible in this world. On the other hand, many of these freedoms are de facto only enjoyed by a small elite.

This scenario is based on the question frequently discussed in the media whether machines, and in particular developments in the field of artificial intelligence, will take work away from humans. Various studies have tried to estimate the percentage of jobs threatened by digitisation for the next one or two decades. The results of these analyses vary widely, from 50% to 30% to as little as 5–10%. 

The classic example of a changing labour market is agriculture. Around the year 1800, it still contributed more than half of all jobs in many places in Europe. Today this is in the single-digit percentage range. There is no unemployment because of this, however. Former farmhands found new jobs in factories. But what will lorry drivers or sales clerks do when their work is automated? According to economic theorist Jeremy Rifkin, although there would be new jobs, they would be mostly reserved for highly qualified employees, since the jobs would require the handling of technology. And even the go-to solution of education is no guarantee for success, because even jobs for highly qualified people could be increasingly automated. In contrast to the steam engine or the tractor, software and developments in the field of artificial intelligence are not limited to specific activities, but can put people in many sectors of the economy out of work at the same time.

In the Gig Economy Precariat scenario, many people are living on the poverty line. Governmental funding of education or healthcare is reduced to a minimum. Anything exceeding the bare minimum has been privatised and is therefore very unevenly distributed.

Those who own land, machines and real estate live in closed-off tax havens with an excellent private infrastructure. They protect themselves against any awakening envy in the precarious masses by means of walls and the occasional philanthropic action. The masses compete for rare short-time employment as day labourers of the digital age. They often do not even know whether they will be able to pay the next rent, while there is little hope for improvement in the near future. Of course, there are also some people who can handle this flexibility very well. Older and less educated people in particular experience great difficulty, however, to adapt to a constantly changing employment market.

What skills will be needed in such a rapidly changing environment?

In this scenario, it is most important to act on one’s own accord and to develop personal responsibility. This is because nobody will look after you if you do not do it yourself. A prerequisite for this is being able to deal with stress caused by the constantly changing, uncertain situation.

Life-long learning ability
Since the employment market is constantly changing, life-long learning has become essential. What is required is the ability to acquire knowledge quickly and to process complex and abundant information.

Machine skills
The ability to work with machines, i.e. computer skills and programming skills, are necessary to use machines to increase productivity and to avoid being replaced by them.

Besides the "Gig Economy Precariat", there are other scenarios that prepare us for various possible futures. What else do we possibly have to be able to do in the future? Download "Future Skills" for free!

Future Skills Study

Study, 2020 (free download)

Languages: German, English, French
Format: PDF
Commissioned by: Jacobs Foundation

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