Future of Work (FOW) is a recurring topic of global conversation. The World Economic Forum, the World Bank and ILO have released several reports on the impact of FoW across the globe. New jobs and roles are being created. Existing ones are vanishing.

Sajith Pai, a veteran media executive turned VC, has long been researching the ‘Future of Work’ and the gig economy. Pai finds himself in an interesting position — a VC who is now gauging how startups should evolve at a 5x pace and how their teams should keep pace. He saw a similar wave with his earlier strategic role at a leading media publication. In this interview, he weighs in on FoW and its overarching impact.

What do you define the Future of Work #FoW as?

While it is tough to generalise, the trends I notice about the ‘Future of Work’ are:

Contractual for certain industries.

Increasingly, the FoW is likely to be piecemeal, contractual. That certainly is a common theme. In my mind, typically formal roles (even what an MBA would do), will start seeing more contractual assignments. Workplaces will see a rise in ‘projectised’ work assignments for MBAs and lawyers. Though, in older economy companies, change might be slower.Contractual for certain roles.

Or, rather than industries, certain specific tasks may be contractual, specifically in the field of startups and marketing. For example, a digital manager for a startup.

At times, a sharp marketing mind is needed, which would otherwise cost the company/industry more than a crore, but today, industries can work with such a person on a contractual basis. This is also what I call the hire-an-expert model. For example, working at a larger company where someone hires employees for expert opportunities becomes a possibility. Lastly, going fully gig and taking up multiple projects has also become a viable option. Gig is especially popular in the area of design.

Real FoW will show itself when one is graduating and decides, I want to go ‘plural’ or I just want to go from one gig to another. Though, I don’t think change will be as dramatic in India because the formal economy is growing super-fast. But, one will begin to notice parts of it commencing to unfold: especially with startups, where people have only worked with startups. People who have worked Pre- (series) A and they move to (series) B and C (startups) perhaps. As William Gibson once said, “The future is already here. It is just not very unevenly distributed.”

For sometime now, I have observed that the FoW has impacted people in their 40s most. Have you seen that happening too?

Personally, when I was working with a media house, I evaluated my own journey a couple of years ago. The first signs of them not investing in the future became apparent. Bright young MBAs did not want to join us or we had to overpay to hire them. That was when I made my own decision.

I had the luxury of time and capital to evaluate and luckily the discussion with Blume started at the right time. Today, there is no stigma of being in between roles and admitting the same. But, remember, that is still only a small set of us. The larger set comprises people in their late 30s (in industries such as telecom for example), where there are sudden changes in technology which results in the loss of jobs. For them it is forced transition and a real challenge. Some of them might even be forced to decide immediately.

I think the mid-30s are a period of intense self-examination when one has to make sure that one’s career is on the right trajectory. It is critical to be in the right fast growing space and grow skill sets and plan for the future. For example, a chartered accountant … what sets him/her apart? Is it feasible learn data science or marketing to skill up?

How does the role of education change?

There has been a rethinking of the traditional model within education. Historically, people were educated up to a certain age and then they worked.

With life expectancy increasing, this model has begun to change. People will now have to sprinkle a lot more education, which is outside the formal economy. It is highly essential to invest on oneself and set aside a sum for traveling, taking up courses and attending conferences. The formal University will have to rethink itself. Ideo, the design company, had looked up the four futures of a degree and one of it was to say that breaking up a four year degree to two years initially and one year later and the next year later was becoming viable. It is a bit like SaaS - you buy a product and have access to it overtime.  Education could become like that, there could be a cloud college which could provide access to conferences etc. In the future, more ‘products’ like that will gain admittance.

A pretty futuristic concept is Minerva Schools, where every semester is experienced in a different city. And here is the thing. There are no classrooms. The entire cohort is in a particular city, but logged in online. The gap year is becoming common in India (in a few sections of the society). How would it be if the gap year was permanent? Companies such as Simplilearn are doing well as people want to invest in themselves. This is a good sign. Earlier, companies would invest in their employees and pay for these courses.

How does the #FoW impact India One, Two and Three?

Defining India One, Two and Three.India One is about 100-125 million people. It is connected to the formal economy. There are various levels right from an employee at a PSU to families living in plush neighbourhoods.

India Two is about 100 million people. They comprise of - Swiggy drivers, Dunzo partners, Uber and Ola drivers or even small Government servants in Satna. They have local jobs and are not plugged into the formal/ global economy yet.India Three is about a billion people who are delinked from the formal set up.

The formal economy is barely 30 million large. Earlier, the software industry was said to have created India’s middle class. The Software industry accounts for nearly 4 million of the formal economy.. Additionally, it has further created a 1 million industry of support jobs (example catering, real estate spaces and more).But a very interesting trend has emerged recently. We are witnessing the birth of a lower middle class service economy. For example, people who work as contractors for Urban Clap or Dunzo. While the income is spiky, the earnings are decent. These options are creating a new lower middle class economy and a lot of startups are tapping into providing the requisite services.

For India One, as they are already a part of the formal economy, about 1% are already experimenting with gig roles like consulting.  More people have begun to prefer plurality as well.With India Two, we see some people moving to India 1 as well, as they are provided more financial services and this is evident today.

For India Three, we will have to wait and watch.

Your advice to people in their 20s, 30s and 40s?

The 40s are when you need to take a call on your career, if you haven't already, and make sure you have a career or at least a clear career strategy for the next 40 years.

The mid-30s are when you need to first take stock of your career and future pathway, and determine what you need to do / invest in yourself to set yourself up for success.

The 20s are about exploring various roles and opportunities and taking risks.


Published Date: Mar 27, 2019 01:03 PM | Updated Date: Mar 27, 2019 07:03 PM IST

Tags : #future of work

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