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The Trajectory of Jobs: Part 4 --- AMARPREET BHAMRA

The post war economy till the current times saw an implosion of jobs in the developed nations while Industrialization reined in further changes in the developing nations. In these years the world witnessed the era of the Cold War and the decline of colonialism.

In terms of jobs there were newer opportunities with the expansion of the service economy. As cities expanded leading to further urbanization modern shopping centres emerged leading to new jobs in the retail sector. The improvement in channels of transportation led to new employment opportunities for the workforce. With increase in hospitals and advances in medical science the workforce benefited from jobs like surgeons, pharmacists, radiologists, nurses, lab technicians etc. To cater to the growing needs of the population fast food restaurants and hotels opened in many cities and ushered in new jobs like managers, customer service, chefs, relationship managers, bar tenders etc. Due to boom in the entertainment industry there was new demand in terms of the employment opportunities within this sector.     

The march of rapid industrialization reigned in changes in the agriculture sector. Large farm holdings adopted mechanization to increase output and reduce the farm labour while the productivity of small farm holding suffered as they were unable to afford the finances required for mechanization. Migration of workforce started taking place as the workers shifted from agriculture to jobs in the cities. There was a spurt in construction jobs due to demand for housing in the cities.

Women took up new jobs to support their families as well as to be financially independent. There was decline in child labour due to growing awareness on their exploitation and some nations passed laws to ban the same. Jobs were regulated by new policies, employment contracts were created, and distinction between white and blue collared jobs accentuated and the Human Resources departments focussed on concepts of employee engagement and workplace benefits. Many nations embarked on publishing or sharing data pertaining to jobs creation while political parties included jobs in their manifestos. Labour unions were formed to raise issues on job stability and demand better pay and working conditions for the employees. In many nations the concept of contractual jobs was formalized and is currently increasing to offset labour costs and increase productivity.  

However, in the past two decades the global job landscape has further undergone a tectonic shift with the rise of machines and the footprints of digital technologies. The economic recession took place in the last decade resulted in job losses and is an accepted norm in the present times. With digital technologies growing stronger many jobs are getting replaced by machines. Scribes, typists, switchboard operators, washers etc., have been rendered obsolete by technology. In the coming times chefs, factory workers, surgeons, journalists, farmers, solders, receptionists, construction workers, accountants, librarians, teachers etc. are some of the jobs which will be taken over by the machines. Layoffs are currently an accepted norm in the global job market. Plus there has been a steady rise in contract employment at a global level in the past five years.

The focus on jobs and their relationship to economic growth occupies centre stage and mindshare in many nations across the world. Some of the abovementioned developments are reflected in the realities closer home though a significant part of the workforce continues to be employed in agriculture. In the current political landscape, the word ‘job’ occupies centre stage. Everyone is talking about jobs be it the political parties, election manifestos, media, citizens and the list goes on. The lack of jobs or the count of jobs triggers heated debates on social media and in the drawing rooms.

We have never seen before such an incisive focus on jobs. My parents’ generation would have survived a one or more than one job in their professional sphere.  As compared to the digital times where the paucity of jobs or contractual employment is fast becoming the accepted norm. The seventies slogan was “all about Roti, Kapda aur Makaan” and in the present times the slogan is only “Naukri”. There is a conundrum when it comes to defining a job or understating the difference between employment and job. Plus there is a big confusion amongst economists, bureaucrats, statisticians on the data which speaks about the growth of jobs and creation of employment opportunities

We need to understand that a job is associated with performing certain set of activities or tasks. This basic tenet applies everywhere from assembling computers to producing handsets to serving food in restaurants to teaching in schools to cleaning houses. If we approach the existing conundrum on jobs with this principle it weans away the clutter. For example, a maid performs a set of tasks similar to a cricket coach who performs a set of activities to produce an output. In simple terms they both have a job to handle and execute. The confusion arises when we question that they do not go to an office and hence they did not perform a job.

If we extend this logic the acrimonious debate on the data pertaining to jobs could be solved. For example, our baseline is set that whoever goes to an office and works for eight hours a day is counted as a job oriented individual. Hence we exclude a large population who are gainfully occupied in their respective professions which in statistical terms constitutes a bias in sampling.

Is the debate on jobs justified? We live in an age which is defined by a new idiom – the rise of machines and digital technologies. The quantum of this change will shape the future of work which will make many jobs redundant. Hence the fulcrum of our current debate should be to think on what the new jobs are and how are we equipping the current and future generations for the same. A more apt manifesto could be – Jobs and our future.

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