The Fourth Industrial Revolution has significantly changed the world through big data, artificial intelligence, and other forms of automation. Hence, the workplace is increasingly fraught by technological disruptions and consequent loss of long-term employment security for all generations. Even educated Millennials who are popularly considered as digital natives are not spared the anxiety of automation and rapidly changing requirements for new skill sets.
How can Millennials best adapt to a transforming world and prepare themselves for a vastly unsettling future of work? My new book Shaping the Futures of Work: Proactive Governance and Millennials aims to provide answers to these questions. Why Millennials? I study their careers because they are currently in large numbers in the workforce.
In my book, I contend that rapid automation causes a frenzy for fast adjustment in the workplace and for employees where innovation is both necessary and unsettling. This has caused social, economic, and political anxieties over job losses, which requires proactive governance to promote cooperation between governments, firms, and individuals.
While good governance already necessitates citizen engagement, proactive governance goes one step further and emphasizes the need to understand the altering nature of work and subsequently enact policies to create employment and retraining opportunities for all.
My case study focuses on the future of work governance, adult learning policies and the career choices, and anxieties of Millennials in Singapore. While their experiences have similarities with Millennials in other countries, they possess distinguishing traits such as extreme pragmatism and are selectively risk averse in their career choices even as they seek a greater sense of purpose and professional enrichment in their work lives. This is partly due to the meritocratic system of education and resource allocation in Singapore. I situate the above debate within the global sociological discussion on automation and organizational restructuring that poses a challenge to governments to keep their citizens employed.
The significant macro contribution of this book is to highlight the role of governments in the rapidly changing future of work, where unsustainable or temporary measures to curtail unemployment are insufficient. Prevention is better than cure. The proactive governance approach clearly aims at tackling problems before they emerge by anticipating, enabling, regulating, and co-creating to help citizens update their skills.
Thus, each state should consider adopting an approach that is suitable for their social, political and economic needs to ensure people remain employable in the future. Citing relevant sociological literature to confirm the need for proactive governance, this book suggests that professionals need to get ready for flux, risk, failure, and reinvention for career changes. I theorize the flux society where anxiety to innovate and stay economically relevant has become a cornerstone of social and economic life.
Due to changing requirements of skill sets, Millennials must focus on the fundamentals of today’s high technology workplace where computer-related skills including coding, AI machine learning, AI ethics and much more are pervasive across most industries. To all Millennials, retraining is a must if they are aiming for a successful career and salary which is prone to change over time.
For example, take a young employee working in finance who believes that their job is in jeopardy due to automation, there are a few options; he or she could either stay in the job hoping for a promotion to a role that is in less danger of being automated. Or on the contrary, he or she could retrain for a different role, which is a big investment in time and money. Is it the employee’s or firm’s responsibility to retrain? The state in consultation should provide the necessary infrastructure and opportunities based on relevant needs in different industries so that people can choose if they wish to upgrade their skills or perhaps even change their careers and work if they desire.
The Skills Future movement in Singapore involves numerous programs to upgrade skills at any age and at any stage of one’s career. These programs are widely accessible and industry relevant and only a small amount of the necessary investment for retraining is paid by the trainee and the rest subsidized by the state. But then comes a question what jobs should people retrain for? How do we measure the efficacy of such programs? This can depend on many circumstances such as job opportunities, the availability of trustworthy information, and social consensus between stakeholders.
One example of social consensus in Singapore is tripartism where the government, industry, and trade unions deal with issues such as economic competitiveness and labor management through job re-creation, retirement age, training and retraining of the workforce, and wage matters. Furthermore, it is important to understand the narratives of Millennials and other generations’ career aspirations and their views about social mobility situated within larger socio-economic contexts set by firms and governments.
Overall, this book provides insights into the ways that Millennials can more effectively tackle the future of work with the collaborative and proactive efforts of the state and provides rich sources of qualitative data. It clearly highlights how Millennials and potentially future generations can be trained from younger ages to possess attitudes and characteristics critical to succeed in the future workforce.
At the same time, the book also highlights the need for better integration of economic and social goals. Through offering rich experiences of Singaporean Millennials and Singapore’s proactive governance approach, the book presents a unique take on the role of the state in the flux society to create an effective transition to the future.
However, it also raises questions about the role of other stakeholders in the wider vision for the future. How should businesses shape their work culture? What can be done by organizations and governments to support those who fail to succeed in the system? This book therefore sets a good foundation to understand Millennials and the role of the state and businesses in the changing future of work.
Nilanjan Raghunath. Shaping the Futures of Work: Proactive Governance and Millennials. McGill-Queen’s University Press 2021.