Steady jobs are less common. Time to admit that the benefits of globalisation have been a little patchy.
I remember earlier in the year I met a guy at a seminar. Let’s call him Jack. He was a good hard working bloke. He didn’t have a trade to stand by, and spent most of his life labouring.
We were chatting about his situation. He reckons he’s got 10 good years left in him. Maybe a little more if the knees hold out. What he really wants is a steady job. Something with a bit of security.
For the past ten years or so he’s been on the contract and casual treadmill. He was making ends meet. The jobs kept coming around. But they were always 3 months here, six months there. Even a few weeks at a time.
He had had a full time permanent job once, but he chucked it in to go travelling for a bit. He always figured the jobs would be there when he got back.
But they weren’t.
Somewhere there, the world changed.
And there’s no going back. The hard truth is that Jack will probably being doing contract work until his knees give out. And then maybe a few more years in a taxi after that (if taxis still exist).
Permanent full-time work is becoming less common, especially in manual and lower-skilled areas.
We’ve got i-pads and built in sat-navs, but we paid for it with security. And sometimes you don’t realise what you’ve got til its gone.
There’s been a lot of soul-searching on both sides of the politics after the election. The result didn’t cast anybody in a good light.
One of the interesting things to come out of it for me was the admission that Turnbull’s “Innovation Agenda” turned out to be a total dud.
I mean we all know as a policy it was just empty thought bubbles, but as a piece of spin, I thought it was alright. In fact, the early Turnbull got me excited. All his talk of rushing out to meet the future – no bunkering ourselves in and trying to “future proof” ourselves. Change could be exciting. Change could be an opportunity.
Turns out though, I was in the minority on that one.
For most people, it was a total turn-off.
In fact, it only seemed to promise to make things worse. It only promised to take the forces that had made life more stressful and unpredictable, and accelerate them. It promised to take the erosion of full-time permanent work, and stick a shiny ribbon on it.
Yay. We can all be independent contractors now. Congratulations. Here’s your quarterly activity statement.
In this sense, the “innovation agenda” was seen to be about opening ourselves up further to the tsunamis of the global economy, and making it even harder for the battlers like Jack who were battling already.
And there’s no political suicide in Australia like being ‘anti-battler’.
So people didn’t want an ‘innovation’ agenda. They wanted a “nice steady job like it’s 1983” agenda.
Now I’m a big believer in riding the chaos and making your own opportunities. But I’m not going to criticise people for being cautious about the future. People have just got to go with what they know.
And if everyone around you is being forced to work longer hours in more precarious working arrangements, it’s reasonable to ask if it’s all worth it.
And the reality is our ‘openness’ creates winners and losers.
If you’re a bearded hipster graphic designer with a unique set of globally marketable skills, the information age has been a boon. If you work in finance, you’ve probably done well, as the finance sector continues to bloom like mould on the back of a couch. If you had skills you could sell to a mine you also probably did well… for a while.
Or if you happened to own a bank or a multinational corporation, forget it! You’ve had a whale of a time.
But if you’re a garden-variety labourer like Jack, it’s harder to point to where the benefits are exactly.
This chart here sums it up perfectly. This is where global income growth has gone over the past twenty years or so.
There’s two surges of income growth. If you were middle class in an emerging economy like China, you’ve gone great guns. You’ve seen an explosion in earnings and wealth.
Likewise, if you were in the global top 1% – the people who own the banks and run massive companies, you having so much fun you’re blowing champagne out your nostrils.
But look at the hole around the 80th percentile. This is poorer workers in rich countries. They’re still rich on a global scale, but they’ve seen almost no income growth over the past twenty years.
So globalisation’s been great if you lived in a poor country, or you were super rich. If not, then things have just gotten more unstable and less predictable, without a whole lot else to show for it.
So tell me again why I need an ‘innovation agenda’?
The picture is grim. The good news I guess is that there are options. We’re working with Jack and he’s got a solid strategy in place. In a few years we should have him out of casual work and into something better. As a professional property investor he’ll still be working for himself, but the income will probably be a lot more predictable.
But Jack is super keen, and property investing isn’t for everyone. The harsh reality is that there is no going back.
So there is still a need for leadership to take the country into that brave and courageous space, and away from the time-lords who promise to somehow take us back to the golden years.
But that leadership is not about lecturing people to be braver. It starts with recognising that things have been tough for a lot of people, and providing a vision for how they can fit and contribute to this brave new world.
I’m not holding my breath.
Do you feel like you’ve done better than most in recent years?
How did you position yourself?