The globalisation of work - and people
- 7 September 2012
- From the section Business
What is fundamentally transforming work is extraordinary connectivity.
In the near future, at least five billion people around the world will use some form of mobile device to download information, access knowledge and coach and teach each other.
Some will have the intellectual capacity and motivation to really make something of this opportunity, wherever they happen to be born.
These people will want to join the global talent pool and, if possible, migrate to creative and vibrant cities.
By doing so, this vast crowd of talented people will increasingly compete with each other, continuously upping the stakes for what it takes to succeed.
It seems to me that this will impact all of us in three ways - the hollowing out of work, the globalisation of virtual work, and the rise of the 'transnational'.
Hollowing out of work
As a result of connectivity and globalisation millions of jobs across the world are disappearing.
This hollowing out of work is seeing the disappearance of middle-wage, middle-skilled jobs such as managers, secretaries, or assembly line workers.
These jobs are at risk because they can either be outsourced to a region with lower wages, or they can be replaced by technology.
So what is left is the jobs at each end of the skill and wage spectrum.
At one end there are high-skill, high-wage jobs - like investment bankers, lawyers, engineers, or IT specialists - which need complex knowledge and expertise and cannot (yet) be substituted by technology.
You can expect these jobs to be paid increasingly well.
At the other end are the low-skilled, low-wage jobs like hairdressers, waiters, bank tellers and shop assistants.
The jobs are difficult to automate because you have to be there to do them. But because many of these jobs require limited training, there is always a willing supply of workers - so wages will always be highly competitive.
Globalisation of virtual work
The West's positional advantage in educating its population will be rapidly eroded even for higher skilled jobs as online education platforms like MIT's OpenCourseWare, Open Yale, iTunes U and Khan Academy connect students in vast numbers, whilst enabling them to have very similar learning experiences and work towards similar qualifications.
It might mean a youngster in an Indian village will have some of the same experience as her contemporary in downtown New York.
Being educated is one part of the work equation, but there is also the question of jobs.
What will a highly-educated person in an Indian village actually do? It seems that in the coming decade even people in the remotest parts of the world will be able to work on online global tasks and projects.
So in principle, whether you live in Uzbekistan, Uruguay or Uganda, the state of your national economy will not necessarily affect your ability to find work, as the virtual market transcends national economies.
Right now, platforms like oDesk, eLance and Guru are able to connect buyers of specialist skills to sellers of these skills, providing access to web designers, software programmers, salespeople, translators and administrators from across the world.
These platforms are enabling distributed buyers and sellers to be combined with speed and accuracy.
There is every possibility that this combination of scaled education and scaled job finding will move work to regions where the most talented and motivated happen to be living.
Rise of the 'transnational'
The implications of the globalisation of education and job market is the rise of what we might call "transnationals".
In the past this is a word to describe corporations - now it's a word to describe people.
These are a worldwide group of people who are able to relocate at any time, making decisions based on relative global employment and investment opportunities.
This global elite, with hybrid associations among multiple cultures and societies, will build competencies that bridge societies in terms of their management style, cultural sensitivities and social networks.
Transnationals, able to speak more than one language and often carrying dual citizenship, will be able to adapt to the sort of cross-cultural communication that is so important for global organisations.
In the past, people with these transnational capabilities predominately came from the developed West.
Now, they are emerging from many countries around the world, amid clear signals that this re-balancing will continue.
Expect to see a whole cohort of leaders emerging from India in the coming decade, and from China in the following decade as these countries' diaspora create ever stronger corridors between markets.
Lynda Gratton is Professor of Management Practice and director of the Future of Work Consortium. Her last book - about the future of work - was 'The Shift'