What jobs will we do in the future?

What jobs will we do in the future? And who will work? Research shows that half of today’s jobs will not be necessary in 20 years’ time. Questions about unemployment and the future job market have been discussed at several different university events in recent months, most recently at Debatt i Lund.

Debatt i LundIn early June, politicians, entrepreneurs and researchers gathered for the Innovation for Jobs conference. One issue that the participants were encouraged to think about from new angles was the difficult equation that periods of growth do not create many jobs. How should society be organised if we are not to have a large marginalised group outside the labour market? New educational programmes that are better adapted to the market was one solution presented; lower entry wages and lower employer contributions for those who appoint young people was another.

Other suggestions were also made, but it can be safely said that all of them were far from the solution predicted by the British economist Guy Standing. Later in the summer, he was the keynote speaker when 300 Nordic sociologists met for a conference in Lund. Guy Standing has coined the phrase ‘the precariat’ for the growing marginalised group that find themselves outside the labour market. He is careful to point out that the precariat is not a typical underclass, but rather it comprises people from a wide variety of backgrounds with the common feature that they are outside the labour market and are forced to live in a state of constant uncertainty. He believes that this marginalised group could become a dangerous new class, and warns of the possible consequences if they are not taken seriously. He has been involved in starting a charity that campaigns for an unconditional basic income for all.

In Sweden, a prominent figure in the movement that advocates a basic income is Roland Paulsen, a sociologist and researcher at the School of Economics and Management in Lund. He often debates in the press and is of the view that work has become an end unto itself:

“Really, we could work much shorter days and still maintain our level of prosperity”, he said when he took part in the first Debatt i Lund of the autumn. Basic income and job sharing were also discussed by the panel, which alongside Roland Paulsen comprised Anne-Marie Pålsson, economist and the instigator of the RUT deduction, and Members of Parliament Annika Lillemets (Green) and Jonas Jacobsson Gjörtler (Moderate).

Mr Jacobsson Gjörtler said that today’s workforce often has unique expertise, and that job sharing is therefore not a possibility. However, this was contested by Dr Paulsen, who referred to research carried out on the knowledge-based economy that shows people are indeed receiving a better education, but are not for that matter doing more complicated tasks.

“The fact is that it has never been easier to replace workers than it is today”, said Paulsen, receiving a round of applause from the audience, most of whom seemed to like the idea of shorter working days or an unconditional basic income.

Text: Ulrika Oredsson

Photo: Britta Collberg