Are jobs dead? | Bridget Loudon | TEDxSydney

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Transcriber: Antonio Matera
Reviewer: Zsófia Herczeg I grew up in Ireland, near a small
country village called Feakle. We had some fun with that name growing up. (Laughter) Most notably, as teenagers,
we tried to start a newspaper called Feakle Matters. (Laughter) At high school, we had this amazing
larger-than-life nun, Sister Bosco; she was our Career Guidance Counsellor. And every year, she’d get us
to cram into this tiny little room, and we’d fill out
this 20-question scorecard that would tell each of us
what we should be when we grow up. No matter how many times
I filled this thing out, and I would secretely do it, mine always said
that I should be a vet or a nun. Every single time. (Laughter) Remarkably, to her credit, when I did graduate from university in the depths of the global
financial crisis, vet and nun, they were
about the only jobs in the village. (Laughter) So sadly, in light of this,
most of us were out of a job. And as young graduates, you quickly learn
that’s the thing with jobs: if you’re not in one,
you’re out of one, right? There’s very little in between. And I’d like to talk about that today because my contention
is that this binary nature of work, being all in or all out, is excluding a huge amount
of people from our workforce, like a huge amount. And it’s kind of messing up
companies too, but it doesn’t need to be this way. And I think that we have
a unique opportunity in history to make some changes
to better set ourselves up for a more inclusive
and a more prosperous future. I’ll come to that. Some time ago, I was working
with the leader of a large organisation, and when you walk
into their offices, it’s pretty cool. They’ve got one of those big wall gardens, floor to ceiling glass, kombucha on tap. (Laughs) Everyone is uncannily upbeat. And still, they were losing
2000 people a year, and the CEO wanted to know why. As we’re walking
to this first meeting together, he turns to me and he says, “Bridget, you saw we got beanbags, right?” (Laughter) I was like, “Yeah, it’s great!” (Laughter) What we decided to do was speak
to some people who’d actually left – recently left and hadn’t taken another job. And the first person that we spoke to
was this awesome woman named Joanna. She was great. She had a Masters
in Statistics from Stanford, she was a recognised expert
in predictive modelling, and we got chatting to her. And what became immediately obvious was that she loved her work. I mean, loved it. And she loved this company. But her job – the 9-6, onsite,
Monday to Friday, the expectation of most jobs – no longer worked for her,
and so she resigned. And if she’s lucky, like the rest of us, got a cake, maybe a social media post,
and a “good luck,” right? I look across at this CEO,
and he is freaking out, I mean freaking out. Because the penny has just dropped for him that he has thousands of unfilled roles
for people just like Joanna. And as I sit there,
you know, high in this tower of dreams, what’s crystallising for me is that this situation is not unique. Across the globe,
so many jobs are going unfilled, and in those same cities,
our brightest and most engaged workers, many of them are leaving
the workforce in the millions, and many are never coming back. So if work doesn’t work
for so many people, why do we do it this way? Why do we do it just this way – in this specific structure? Actually, for thousands of years,
work was pretty flexible. It wasn’t until about 200 years ago,
during the industrial revolution when we started to put
this rigid structure around how work could
or couldn’t get done. Right? At that time, we had few
workplace norms or standards. So one by one,
we introduced them to provide initially protection,
support, structure. And voila! We had a standard language, a way in which work and workers
could come together. And we called these neat little units
of our economies and of our lives, jobs. So the answer is we created it
because we needed it, there really wasn’t
any structure before that. And for much of the 20th century,
it worked perfectly. Because work was largely commoditised,
as were the people who did it, right? Easily replaceable, swap-in-and-outable. Thinking and operating in 1s and 0s
allowed companies to scale and economies to be productive. Additionally, society liked to have
family units with a single breadwinner, and so that “all in or all out”
notion reinforced this and reinforces this. But when we created the job, we didn’t think about
things like working parents, career breaks, career changes, the post-50-year-old experienced worker,
the highly mobile millennial, because they didn’t exist. And companies, organisations, their needs
have evolved even more than our own. They need to be able to deploy different skills and expertise
at different times to meet an ever-faster pace of change. And us, talent, we are no longer
replaceable, easily swap-in-and-outable. So when you consider
all the advances in technology, our immense progress as society, it’s no wonder that a system of work
we designed (Whisper) in the 19th century, is no longer working for us. It’s okay. We’ve got this. We can change. So what is the solution? What’s next? It’s not beanbags. (Laughter) It’s not just beanbags. (Laughs) I’d like to tell you a story. We have a customer
who has about 4,000 employees. And when one of their people leave, they’re not just given a cake,
social media post and a “good luck,” probably never spoken to again. Instead, they’re invited to be part
of this company’s “project panel.” And instead of losing forever
the skills and knowledge of their alumni, they tap into this pool in real time,
on a project basis. Think about that. Makes sense, right? So simple. What this company and others are doing
is creating a new category of work. They’re defining a new category
of work and worker, their project-based worker. In the future, I think organisations
will still have a permanent workforce, but they will also have
a project-based one. And the people in it
will be rolling on and off work, maybe taking some time out
to walk the Camino, writing a book, caring for a parent,
engaged in a bunch of other projects. Because as project-based
workers ourselves, we may belong to the project panels
of a bunch of different companies with whom we have trusted relationships. And for those of us who maybe stayed
in a full-time job, an intense one a little longer than we’d wanted because we feared
the alternative was nothing at all, we can do the work we love and live. Perhaps young graduates
will start asking as well as, “What’s my path to promotion?”, “What’s my path to project-based working?” And companies, companies will compete to build community,
culture, professional development around their project-based workers. And as was necessary
during the industrial revolution, our policymakers will focus
their energies on how to adapt to support and protect
the rights and realities of this new category of worker. Because we will all have
a new category of work and worker that is unambiguously understood,
valued and respected. We won’t find it dfficult
to get a mortgage, get a rental property, save for retirement. One day, hopefully soon,
I think we’ll look back, and we’ll think it’s crazy
that we worried about documents on desks, and we let our most valuable IP
just walk out the door and never speak to them again. I think we’ll look back
on these 200 years, this very short time in human history, and we will find it difficult to imagine
a time when work was all or nothing. When I was a kid, my mum always told me I could be
whatever I want to be when I grew up. This caused some ripples
in my kindergarten on career day. (Laughter) We had to go up
to the front of the classroom and pick the costume
that was going to represent the job that we were going to have
when we grew up. I didn’t yet know, at this point,
nun and vet were on the cards. (Laughter) But you can imaging me standing there as a four or five-year old,
and I’m looking at all of these costumes, and I turned to my teacher
and I said to him, “I don’t want to just pick one.” And he said, “You don’t understand the exercise.” (Laughter) And somewhere in my little
five-year-old brain, I remember thinking to myself, “Hmm. I don’t think
you understand the future.” (Laughter) Thank you. (Applause)

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