Will the day come when we all work as our own boss? Stephane Kasriel, CEO of Upwork and co-chair of the Global Future Council on Education, Gender and Work, says entrepreneurs and freelancers represent the future of the workplace, as traditional office jobs become less and less relevant. He explains what we need to do to prepare, how companies should react, and why there is still a glass ceiling to be shattered.
Your Global Future Council has a very broad spectrum to cover. How do you see education, gender and work colliding?
The reason we adopted this approach is that the three topics are greatly interconnected. There is more value in recognising the links between these issues than analysing them in isolated studies.
Some countries have been good at taking a holistic approach, but most still see these as separate functions. Our goal is to get stakeholders to approach these topics as a whole, with a more human-centered approach as opposed to the traditional functional point of view.
How will your Council be contributing to that conversation?
We’ve had quite a few conversations already. We want to focus on the dialogues that are happening, and help shape those dialogues. That will then have an impact on the research and the development of initiatives for these issues for governments, private business and other stakeholders.
For example, we are currently working on a document which will address education in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and one on how to address the gender gap. Another document in the making is on the future of work. How do we facilitate the transition from the traditional form of work to the future state where work is more flexible?
What are trends are you seeing in these areas right now?
They don’t all move at the same pace.
In education, lifelong learning is more important than it ever used to be. The idea that you study in your youth and then have a career in one company is gone. Skills are changing all the time. There is a constant need to be reskilled. If you look at jobs in the marketplace today, you need some kind of renewal every five years or so.
In the workplace, we are moving towards more flexible arrangements where the individual is working with multiple companies at the same time. A lot of it is knowledge work, which can be done from anywhere. That creates more value than the traditional work model.
When it comes to gender, there continues to be too large a gap worldwide. Governments and businesses must continue to encourage having more women in the workforce. Some countries require more work than others. Sadly, there are still places where we still need to convince people that there exists an opportunity.
Where do you think we’ll be by 2030? How do we prepare for that?
Each of these issues will improve on its own, which also means that they will improve each other.
The future of work is not going to be about full time employment. By 2030, millennials will have senior positions. They will bring with them this mentality that work doesn’t need to be 9-to-5 nor does it have to be done in an office space. You’re going to see even more departure from the way we think of work now.
People want freedom and flexibility. They want to be in charge of their own destiny. Managers need to prepare for this. We used to have a manager and worked in a team that came in and did a work day in the office. More and more we’re going to see people working with flexible hours from a distance.
Those graduating need to know how to manage their career in this more flexible model. They will need to be technically knowledgeable, but also be able to sell themselves, build a reputation, manage customer expectations, and negotiate agreements. The people you work for in the future will no longer be your bosses and your managers, they will be your clients. Education systems need to prepare their graduates to become entrepreneurs.
Inversely, companies must also prepare. Managers struggle to manage millennials because they are more likely to leave the company quickly. But businesses need to change how they look at this because it’s not the millennials who will change. The generation after the millennials will be even more independent. The new world will be self-assembled and flexible.
With education, we will need to provide tools and incentives for employees to train themselves regularly. Still, no matter how much training is on offer, companies probably won’t have all the tools they need. Things are simply changing too fast. Freelancers will begin filling those gaps more and more.
Hopefully, by 2030 we will see a more effective feedback loop from industry on what they need in the workforce. Not just in hard skills abut also in soft skills, making future generations better prepared.
Finally, the reason we have so few women in executive positions is because companies still need to do a better job at recognising glass ceilings. We need to see actual projects and deliverables. Companies need to hold themselves accountable for those goals.
What would be your best-case scenario for 2030?
In a best case scenario, we will have a much flatter world, one where men and women can achieve their potential irrespective of race, ethnicity, religion, country of origin or country of residence, where pay is fair and there is an appropriate safety net for all.
This will not happen on its own, there are many forces operating against maintaining even the current state, such as the acceleration of artificial intelligence and robotics, rising income disparities across and within countries, and disturbing recent trends in populism, xenophobia and gender discrimination in several countries. But with the right multistakeholder collaboration, it is possible to get there and highly urgent that we do.
The author is CEO, Upwork