November 1, 2022
We live in a changing world. While automation, virtualization, and the increasing use of AI are all exciting prospects for businesses of all sizes, it's time to address the elephant in the room. The constant progression of technology has damaged the livelihoods of many skilled workers. While technology can certainly drive efficiency, we must be careful not to sacrifice this human well-being. Workers who have spent years refining their skill sets in their respective industries continue to be laid off due to technological advances, but the same advances that have put them out of work may be the path to open new opportunities.
An egregious example of technology replacing skilled laborers can be found in the telecom industry. We rely on telecommunications for everything from business to personal life around the globe, but the industry continues to make tens of thousands of job cuts as telecoms focus on automation.
It is worrying to see the lack of attention paid to the casualties as companies scramble to gain an advantage over one another and inflate corporate profits. Not only do these revelations in the telecommunications industry raise essential discussion points for captains of industry but also for workers, unions, politicians, and policymakers around the world.
How do we address the situation when skilled telecommunications workers are forcibly terminated? What happens to the skill sets they've spent years or decades developing? Are these skilled individuals capable of finding challenging work in a gig economy?
A gig economy refers to flexible, temporary, or freelance work, often involving connecting with clients and customers online so that work can be adapted to the current needs and demands of consumers.
During the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, large populations were forced to move their workspaces to their homes. Due to this shift, many business leaders learned that the advancement of technology has enabled their staff to work as efficiently or better from home as they would in person. Since there has been such a successful shift in work culture, it was estimated that as much as 16% of the working population earned income by working in some gig capacity in 2021 in America. This creates plenty of opportunity for employers because they can now choose from a wider range of applicants seeing as they no longer must hire based on proximity. Gig economies also allow employers who cannot afford full-time employees to hire part-time or temporary employees during busy times or for specific projects in which they are not able to hire full-time employees.
In addition to these benefits, gig workers gain flexibility and independence, while employers save money by avoiding providing benefits such as health coverage and paid vacation time. Some gig workers are provided with some benefits, but external agencies handle the benefits programs and other management duties.
Another benefit of the gig economy is it allows its workers to live a more dynamic life. It is common for employees to move, take multiple positions, and/or change careers in order to afford the lifestyle they desire. Through the gig economy, workers can tailor their careers to accommodate the wants and needs of their personal lives.
With many businesses opting to move their workforce to remote environments, experts predict these changes will lead to an increase in the number of gig economy workers. Currently, more than one-third of US workers (36%) participate in the gig economy, either through their primary or secondary jobs. The telecommunications industry is no exception to these estimations.
The workforce in the telecommunications industry has been significantly impacted by these rapid advancements in the field of automation. With an influx of talented telecoms workers looking for work, there is a large opportunity for a gig economy to gain traction. At Field Engineer, we aim to provide businesses with direct access to skilled freelance engineers in the telecommunications gig economy to prevent the valuable skills of these workers from going to waste. The service provides businesses with effective and quickly administered engineering solutions, either on-site or remotely. The upside for businesses is self-evident. As a result, the company benefits from the skills of a skilled engineer without having to take on the financial responsibility of training and motivating them.
Both businesses and workers can continue to meet their needs through gig economy work. As a result of these short-term contracts, skilled engineers will be able to benefit from the flexibility that is gained through negotiable contracts. It also allows businesses to hire a broader range of workers when their capacity is reached. While it's an effective remedy for a job crisis, we shouldn't overlook the importance of taking a more nuanced and less alarmist approach to work and workers' futures.
The discussion of 'the future of work' may lead to pithy editorials and websites telling users how redundant their skills will be in 50 years. However, it does not address the fundamental economic and industrial costs associated with an increasingly redundant workforce or corporate structures that regularly sideline skilled front-line workers. As a matter of fact, it could be argued that these conversations have worsened the problem, as they focus more on future-proofing corporate structures than creating sustainable futures for skilled workers.
Governments, businesses, and unions need to stop to consider how to regain a sense of stability in the lives of many of their employees. While there are plenty of benefits to having flexibility in people's lives humans tend to thrive off rhythm. For some workers, the flexibility of working gigs for too long can disrupt the work-life balance, sleep patterns, and activities of daily life. Flexibility in a gig economy often means that workers must make themselves available any time gigs come up, regardless of their other needs, and must always be on the hunt for the next gig. This leaves the question, is a gig economy the answer?
Individuals working in the gig economy tend to prefer it to work in an office. According to studies, gig economy workers are 79% more satisfied than traditional workers. As laborers continue to become more isolated, employees and businesses must work together to increase levels of stability for both in-house workers and possible future gig economy workers. These workers are incredibly resilient and will find new ways to thrive in the changing economy just like the generations of workers have done before them.