The Great Job Upheaval

By: Gerald Goh

The fallout from the global recession of 2009 is still being felt in 2013. In fact, Singapore’s economy contracted 0.6 per cent on a year-on-year basis in the first quarter of this year, down from 1.5 per cent in the previous quarter in 2012.

With sluggish economic growth forecasted for many other countries around the world, jobseekers are thus eagerly awaiting a turnaround in global economic sentiment – anticipating a return to the days of plenty as bad debts are restructured, toxic assets purged and the unemployment rate falls.

Will this come to pass?

Occupational Gap

A recent article in the New York Times (12 April, Jobless Recovery Leaves Middle Class Behind) bemoaned the loss of the ‘middle-class’ of jobs – jobs that have been increasingly by technology and automation.

And the bad news is that even as the economy picks up, it will most likely be a ‘jobless recovery’, where jobs terminated in the recession are not coming back – ever.

During economic recessions, companies often scramble to stem the flow of red ink by implementing structural changes such as technological innovation (more on that below), the cutting of headcount and merging of multiple job responsibilities – measures that are not easily undone even as economic conditions improve.

The 21st century may also see the acceleration of an ‘occupational gap’, where the job market will be increasingly tailored toward high-wage, high-skilled jobs (primarily occupations immune to technology e.g. creative design and financial services), and low-wage, low skilled jobs involving menial labour where technological applications are inappropriate or prohibitively expensive.

Job Evolution

If and when the global economic outlook improves, we could instead see a boom of certain industries, such as construction and social services/nursing. In addition, new types of jobs would have to be created to fill the void.

Indeed, columnist Thomas L. Friedman of the New York Times Sunday Review opined that that the working generation of tomorrow may need to “invent” a job to fill a particular niche, rather than “find” an existing job that’s being advertised, as seen in the current paradigm of jobseekers and employers.

For example, if hydrogen fuel cells and solar power are developed as an economic alternative to fossil fuels, an entire industry (with many job openings requiring new skills) could spring up overnight.

Closer to home, Channel NewsAsia reported that Chew’s Group's chicken farm in Lim Chu Kang hopes to turn its daily ‘output’ 60 tons of chicken droppings a day into biofuel, which can supply up to about 70 per cent of the farm’s energy needs.

Fluid Job Market

Even discounting the generation of entirely new industries, what this means for the average jobseeker is that, much like Moore's law (which posits a doubling of computer chip processor speed every 18 months or so), the job openings and their requisite skills of tomorrow might well be evolving at an exponential rate that will make future job classification much harder.

Graduates will no longer be able to set their hearts and mind on working in a singular industry their entire careers, and job-hopping may well become an increasingly common phenomenon, as workers will be required to hold an ever-increasing amount of flexibility, creativity and multi-tasking – a combination that will hopefully elude the clutches of recessionary pressure and technological innovation.

For now, that is.

Do you think the job market is changing - and for the better? Share with us in the comment box below!

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