Jobs for life are becoming more rare as whole sections of industries are disappearing due to advances in technology and changes in consumerism. Ten years ago, driverless cars were just science fiction fantasies. Now, how long has your average cab driver got in his job?
According to PwC’s recently published Workforce of The Future report, 37% of us are worried about losing our jobs to automation. But this concern may be a little misplaced. “We’re already in a situation where humans and robots are intertwined,” Mody says. “What I think we’ll see more of is deconstructing jobs into component skills – those tasks that can be automated and those that are uniquely human: adaptability, creativity, leadership, even the ability to delight a customer.” So the jobs, or job titles, we recognise may evolve into something quite different.
The way we work is transforming due to political uncertainty, economy ups and downs and significant demographic shifts. “Not only are people living longer, they aren’t saving enough to fund the old style of retirement, so we’re likely to see people diversifying and adapting to longer working lives,” Mody says.
The Guardian recently asked six people in struggling industries how their work has changed, and where they think they will be in 10 years’ time.
- DVD rentals
In 2007, the number of DVD rentals peaked at 97.7m. Now, due to streaming services, the DVD rental market has almost completely diminished. Tara Judah, one of three co-directors of 20th Century Flicks, Bristol said that she feels the video rentals industry doesn’t exist anymore;
“We’re more closely tied to Bristol’s independent businesses. It’s largely because of where we are that we’re able to exist.”
“We pay ourselves the minimum wage. And we eke out different strands of the business that will help sustain it, from selling records to hiring out our little screening room. One year, our best business plan was to go on the Eggheads quiz show and try to win lots of money. But we didn’t get a film round.”
“Every year we continue to exist, it’s a surprise. I wouldn’t say we’re stressed about it, and I don’t think we have unrealistic expectations. The only reason the shop is open is because it’s a nice place, and we get to be ourselves. I did have an office job once that was totally soul-destroying. I wouldn’t like to wake up in the morning and dread going to work.”
- The Garment Maker
Ross Barr Hoyland, 28, founder of Ross Barr, a knitwear company based in Yorkshire, designs knitwear that is made from 100% British wool, and spun and dyed in West Yorkshire. Wool is one of the oldest UK industries, so it’s a shame the heritage is being neglected.
Hoyland says, “I’ve had the backing of the Prince’s Trust and the Campaign For Wool, which has been brilliant; but in terms of funding, it has been hard. Most funding out there is earmarked for tech, not manufacturing. Wool is one of the oldest industries we have, so it’s a shame we’re neglecting that heritage. Fast fashion has had a major impact on the industry. The customer wants more for less. But more is going into landfill, and those clothes are generally of manmade fibres that don’t decompose.”
“Brexit has been interesting. It’s made my clothes much cheaper outside the UK, so it opens up markets such as America. But so many of the grants and initiatives that exist were funded by the EU. It’s made everything less certain. It feels as if there’s less support out there and everyone’s struggling to grow. I speak to others in the industry and generally the feeling is the same. People have a hard time finding silver linings. You have to try, though.”
- The black-cab driver
There has been a year-on-year decline in numbers across the UK, while the number of private hire vehicles (such as minicabs) has jumped by 23% in the last two years. However, according to a report from the Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford, it is highly probable that taxi drivers’ jobs will become automated. The introduction of apps such as Uber have affected the livelihood of the traditional black-cab driver.
Bob Azam, a black-cab driver in Manchester told the Guardian: “I got into this because of a bet about 15 years ago. I’d just sold my newsagent business and was at home doing nothing much. I went out for dinner with my brother, who was already a cab driver, and he said, “You don’t know Manchester as well as I do.” I love a challenge, so I bet him I could pass my Knowledge. I’ve been driving a taxi ever since.”
“It’s funny, a few years ago we were saying, “Uber? Never gonna work – who’s going to use an app to get a taxi?” But it has decimated our trade. I could take you round Manchester at the weekend and show you Uber drivers who have come here from Wolverhampton, Leeds, Liverpool to pick up fares, but they don’t know the area. They have to work really long hours to make a decent living: 15-hour shifts. But of course people use them, because it’s cheap.”
Azam says his income has dropped around 50 per cent in the last five years.
- Glass blowing
Traditional crafts have been reported to be diminishing in the UK, with glassblowing on the red list of those that might die out completely, as fewer than 50 are currently employed in the UK and many are approaching retirement.
Terri Adams, 48, scientific glassblower, based at the University of Oxford says, “Glassblowing goes back to Egyptian times, but what I do is probably not what most people think of when they imagine glassblowing. I design one-off pieces of equipment for specific research projects. I make a lot of “perfusion glassware”, which is used to keep small organs alive outside the host body. One of the pieces I made recently was a gas cell that was to be taken up a volcano. It needed special silicon windows attached, so that the gas collected could be viewed using an infrared spectrometer.”
“I fell into this. I was supposed to train in forensic science, but then I went to visit a university campus with a friend and stumbled on a display of scientific glassware. I was fascinated. There aren’t many women doing what I do; it’s a typically male environment and it can be quite intimidating. The work is often very physical, actually handling the glass, snapping it and cracking it. Glass is a genre, like metal – there are so many different kinds and you need extreme temperatures to manipulate it, so I’m often working with these roaring great blue flames. There’s the potential for some nasty burns but, touch wood, I’ve never been injured.”
Apprenticeships in the trade will have a massive impact on the future of the profession; but there aren’t any accredited qualifications that reflect the level of skill involved, so there lies a problem.
- Independent book seller
The number of independent booksellers in the UK has fallen for 11 consecutive years, almost halving from 1,535 in 2005 to 897 in 2017.
Simon Key, 48, co-owner of the Big Green Bookshop in North London told the Guardian: “I’ve been in bookselling since 1984. I left school at 15 and went on a YTS scheme: the choice was work in a bookshop or work in a camera shop. I chose the books, even though I wasn’t that into them – until I turned up on the first day and had my mind blown. I thought, “This is just fantastic.” So that was that.”
“Tim [West, Big Green co-owner] and I were the managers of a Waterstones in the shopping centre up the road. We were plodding along nicely, then our area manager came in one day and said they were closing the shop in nine days. It was a bit of a surprise. I said to Tim, “I think Wood Green really needs a bookshop. Shall we open our own?” Tim said, “Yeah, all right then.” We started a blog and got lots of local support. We got the keys to this place in February 2008 and opened a few weeks later, with much fanfare – quite literally: there was a trumpet player there.”
“I tweeted for help. The response was incredible: thousands of retweets, loads of people buying books, offering donations.”
“On the first day, we sold about 5% of our total stock and we thought, “This is brilliant.” The next day, we took around £100 – not so brilliant. And that’s been the pattern since: lots of ups and downs. January was a stinker this year. I know a lot of people in the industry who said it was the worst they’ve ever had.”
“Tim keeps a closer eye on the accounts than I do. A couple of months ago, our finances looked pretty grim. I tweeted something like, “We’ve got six days to pay the bills, so you lot need to start buying books”, and went to bed. The response was incredible: thousands of retweets, loads of people buying books or offering donations. It was really full-on for about a week and a half. The best kind of hard work.”
“We’ve got a loyal customer base, but sometimes it’s tricky. Supermarkets are selling books. Amazon is still aggressively discounting and trying to take over the world. And with this part of London being such a transient area, we need to keep letting locals know we exist. There’s a slight upturn at the moment. More people are buying physical books again, and a lot of independent publishers are producing some fantastic stuff. That’s good for people like us, because the major online retailers don’t pick up on them. You’ve just got to try to be different. We never sit here waiting for customers to come in. We’re always thinking, “What can we do to get more?”
Local news publications have depleted in number over the last 30 years too. According to a 2015 report, approximately 20% of journalists make less than £19,200 a year; many will be below the living wage.
Joy Persaud, from Brighton, has worked as a freelance journalist since the early 1990s. She told the Guardian, “I started out on the Ealing Gazette in 1990. In those pre-internet days, there was no option but to pick up the phone, get out of the office and meet people. I uncovered plans to close a London hospital, which made our front page and then the Evening Standard. The hospital still stands.”
“There were smaller victories, too, such as kicking up a fuss when we encountered people living in substandard accommodation in various corners of west London and lobbying to get them rehoused. We were the voice of people who often felt invisible. And people in power would read our stories and act on them; reputations were contained in a smaller vacuum and it was easier to make an impact.”
“After seven years, I took a job on a magazine, wanting to broaden my portfolio. By 2002, the economy was failing and I realised, after being offered a job for a far lower salary than my predecessor, that I had to leave.”
“Now, my work is a mixture of business articles, celebrity interviews, corporate copywriting and coaching people to write well. My focus is national rather than local, partly due to the lack of funds available in local news. Local newspapers have always paid relatively poorly, and their demise has meant budgets have largely moved in-house – and stayed at decades-old levels. Also, there are people who will happily write for nothing and editors (local and national) who believe exposure is enough of a reason to commission or run a piece. It isn’t.”
“Copywriting software has given people with no grounding in journalism the ability to disseminate their views via easily-set-up websites. We professionals are up against the purveyors of fake news, and it is hard for the unwitting reader to tell the difference. This all conspires to devalue journalists’ output.”
“If I had my time again, I’d still be a journalist. If my daughter wanted to follow in my footsteps, I’d hope that by the time she’s at work in the 2030s, the fashion for Twitter-style snippets over in-depth analysis would be long gone. When Grenfell happened, my heart sank, not only for those affected, but also because there had been no one to listen to their fears the way we once did at the Ealing Gazette. Now, the micro is lost to the macro; the swipe of a screen gives people a global audience, and it’s increasingly rare for readers to analyse what’s beyond the headlines.”
So what happens next?
It’s likely that certain aspects of jobs will become automated, with humans still being employed in roles that require greater creativity, social intelligence and perception. According to analysis by Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne of Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford, the jobs most at risk of becoming automated include telemarketing, data entry keyers, insurance underwriters and legal secretaries. Those least at risk include therapists, choreographers, HR managers and dentists.
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