The future of jobs

How to create sustainable jobs for the future?

"Cocooned" by Fié Neo, photographed by Anna Skahill

It's not working. We are feeling the crunch. The world's richest 1% owns 45% of the world's wealth, people who can afford it invest and earn money through speculation, (basically analysing and waiting but not doing any real work that produces social value). People who can't afford it work long hours and still not have much left at the end of each month. A lot of the work we do now involve collecting data, writing reports, filing administration: work that is done to service the system but doesn't necessarily contribute to anyone's wellbeing. Young people are taking to the streets to fight for their future because global warming IS real despite what some adults believe otherwise

If we want to tackle global warming, if we want to live more sustainably, we need to change the way we work and the nature of our work.

Products based businesses

If we look at businesses, many business models run on ads, like Facebook. But what ads do is essentially sell products and services. Most of which, we don’t actually need. Fashion being the most environmentally damaging industry also creates one of the most adverts we see on a daily basis. We are wasting resources and worsening climate change everyday while feeding desires artificially created through compelling story-telling tools used by media-advertising. Capitalism built on excessive consumption is not sustainable for Earth yet we are not breaking out of this vicious cycle; we have greater inequality caused by unequal distributions of profit; global warming worsened by products-based economy that creates more waste; exploitation in developing countries to feed the demands of cheap products to be sold in developed countries. Yet new businesses are focusing on producing even more products (and our environment continues to suffer because the materials needed to make them ultimately come from nature). We are all responsible for this because we consumers are the driving force that keeps capitalism going.

What is the solution?

Post-automation jobs will be in technology or social in-person jobs.

We all know that automation is coming, jobs will be lost, the world is changing. A normal 9 to 5 job may not be relevant anymore in the future. Most jobs that can be automated will be replaced by machines. Now, this is the key. The jobs that cannot be replaced will be social jobs that require contact with people. Jobs that robots cannot replace. As people have more free time, they will engage more with communities. This is where participatory practices and community engagement come into play.

Right now we have NGOs, social enterprises, participatory artists, all the actors working with people and communities struggling with the lack of resources to continue good social projects that promote human connection- yet we need more of these, especially with the rise of loneliness in cities. How can we create socially-engaged, meaningful jobs of the future NOW?

We are happy to pay for a $5 Starbucks coffee yet probably reluctant to pay to participate in an urban gardening event (even though these events generally increase our wellbeing by connecting us with one another). But here's the problem. The artist who finds the space and sets up the urban garden, coordinates and does publicity for the urban gardening project, facilitates and brings local communities together, is actually doing A LOT of work. On top of that, this artist probably has to find funding to support this project, which means more time spent writing many funding applications . If funding was awarded, the artist will have to do a lot of administration and reporting and probably not much is left after purchasing materials. So, how is this artist going to pay rent and expenses? This is the fundamental problem in my opinion: sustainability.

This problem is not that unfamiliar in NGOs too. More time is spent doing administration, writing reports, proving impact, (servicing this system), than actually going out there to talk to people, build relationship with communities and actually change something. Many events organised by NGOs are one-off events. Impact doesn't happen in one day. It requires many, many sustained conversations and relationship built with people. Why? Because change doesn't come from someone changing the life of someone else. It comes from giving opportunities and tools for a person to change his or her life situation. It comes from education and exchange. It comes from levelling the playing field.

Alternative economies

There are alternatives like The Gift Economy. We don't have to live the way we are living now. We don't need money to live.

What do you need to live comfortably? Does a car, a big house or a wardrobe full of clothes satisfy you? Or are they purchases to fill the emptiness? Are you happy in your 9 to 5 job? Do you feel like you are making a difference? Do you feel like you are doing meaningful work?

Maybe someday, we won’t be chasing after money. Maybe someday, we will start prioritising wellbeing and happiness instead of economy when we think about jobs. Maybe someday, we will find happier, healthier and more sustainable ways of living together.

Earth doesn't belong to anyone. It is our right to live on it, as much as every other animal born into the world. There is a place for everyone in this eco-system. Every animal serves a function to maintain the balance. But we humans are tipping the balance. We are claiming land and nature as ours and then charging people for it when they don't even belong to us to begin with. We are exploiting nature, exploiting animals, exploiting other humans. Live a couple more years the way we are living now and we will be fighting for water, fighting for disaster free zones, fighting for food. The rich will end up somewhere in a safe haven built to protect them from the disasters to come, everyone else will probably brutally fight for survival . The fastest way to break out of this vicious system is to leave cities. Build eco-villages. But well, I understand that's not very realistic for many people because it's a huge lifestyle choice that requires many sacrifices. This brings about my next point. In a system that is built for endless consumption, perhaps we can tilt it towards a more sustainable slant by providing services that connect people and facillitate social spaces, instead of creating more businesses that produce goods.

Jobs that facilitate and mediate purposeful conversations

Participation is important. Civic engagement is important. Conversations are important. We need spaces for conversations. But we have increasingly less and less public spaces that allow us to engage with our local communities.

I am an Asian woman living in Europe. Trust me, discrimination I face on the streets is not new for me. But after 5 years, here's what I've learned: Conversations can melt discrimination.

I believe discrimination comes from a place of ignorance. The more I talk to people, the more I see them chipping away this wall called 'differences'. The deeper your exchange, the more you see how much you are similar than different. Beyond our skin colour we are all humans.

It's not just discrimination. Purposeful conversations can solve many social issues we have because people change through conversations. We need spaces and we need mediators, facilitators that can help maintain a safe space to hold such conversations. It is a real skill to mediate and facilitate with sensitivity. Artists engaged with communities are equipped with this skill. Surely there is place for jobs like this to emerge.

Bottom up movement

I believe there is power in collectivity. I believe we all have the power to change something, to make a difference. We need to be active not just in words but in actions too. I don't believe that only rich people have the power to change something. We are wealthy too, in the kindness we can show, the patience we can give, the listening ear we can offer.

It does not take a couple of rich billionaires to change the systemic structures we live in now. It takes us, 7.7 billion of us who live in this world, to change the way we spend and the way we think, in order to change the system.

Paying for community engagers has a much less environmental impact than paying for fast fashion. Community engagers will likely spend what they earn on food, housing, expenses that will eventually make its way back into the economy. But when you pay for products by big corporates, a large amount of that ends up in the pockets of shareholders. In addition, this ensures a circular economy, builds up social capital and creates new jobs. We need a fundamental shift in mindset, we need people to be conscious shoppers, we need people to support initiatives that will reverse global warming, we need people to value services that create greater and deeper human connection. But for that to happen we need to first create these services and build social jobs for the future.

This is my alternative. This is my proposal. And this is why I am facillitating interdisciplinary workshops to discover ways we can collaborate and create the jobs for the future. Let's figure this out together.




Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
fié neo

Fié Neo is an interdisciplinary artist and intersectional thinker. Instagram @feeyeh_neo | Podcast: OnionsTalk