The gig economy is defined as a labor market characterized by a prevalence of short-term contract and free lance work as opposed to permanent jobs.
Of course, there has been a gig economy for as long as people have decided to trade skills for salt! But what is happening now and what is likely to happen over the next decade is unprecedented in modern human history. Like the frog sitting contentedly in the pot, most folks happily working away in a “normal” 9-5 job simply do not understand that they are one or perhaps two steps away from independence, whether they want that or not.
One driver of the gig economy is the death of traditional employment. That death is the result of three primary contributors.
First is natural obsolesce. The classic example is the buggy whip. When the transportation eco system was principally horse driven, buggy whips were an essential ingredient in the economy, hence a good business to be in and a valued skill in crafting them.
Outsourcing of labor is the next change, even though one could argue that outsourced labor is not changing traditional employment at the macro level, it is simply moving the jobs to lower cost locations.
And last and perhaps most prevalent is the replacement of human labor with industrial automation. This has been happening continually over the last 100 years and the rate at which that will occur will increase.
Most of us have seen automation replace human labor. When I was a young guy growing up in West Texas, it was easy to get a job clearing brush or digging ditches, jobs easily replaced by machines (and I honestly do not miss those jobs!). I worked on industrial automation, robotics and machine learning in my career and know firsthand that the math to justify the investment is almost always about replacing labor cost.
This trend is accelerating and moving from manual labor to more skilled jobs at a rapid pace. The rise of machine learning, Artificial Intelligence and advanced robotics are moving towards the ability to replace literally millions of jobs. As far back as 2013, an Oxford study estimated that as much as 47% of the current US jobs are at risk of automation (Frey, CB, Osborne).
Of course, the debate will rage about if these job losses are permanent and un-replaceable. And the pace of job replacement due to technology like autonomous vehicles and even artificial intelligence will likely be slower than technologist might expect as regulatory and our innate slowness to change will impact adoption rates.
5G, is a two-edge sword in this discussion, both eliminating many traditional jobs but creating new space for others.
There is no question that 5G technology will accelerate the adoption of IoT applications that will render some human jobs as obsolete. It will make the speed and reliability of doing mass transactions plausible and that may shift some data processing and decision science jobs into the realm of automation. Will the mass number of required edge computing locations replace or even increase the number of jobs potentially lost from traditional data centers?
My view is that while 5G and the surrounding technologies will likely contribute to the loss of many traditional “jobs”, it will be a significantly enabler of the gig economy and, at the very least, a huge and fertile ground for a future Steven Jobs or Michael Dell or Bill Gates to develop business models we can only begin to dream about.
My colleague at 5G-Courses, Professor Mischa Dohler uses a phrase to describe our future state as the “internet of skills”. I find that term powerful, exciting and full of promise. In a world where you as an individual posse a unique skill set, all three of the core use cases of 5G create a platform for you to use your skills in ways that perhaps could never have been done in a traditional 9-5 job.
Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB) empowers you with the ability to be in front of your clients any time, all the time with high throughput web experiences, enhanced video and even virtual reality. If you are an expert in network trouble shooting, imagine a future where you could become an independent NOC center for a public or private 5G network. Massive Machine Type Communications (mMTC) connecting billions of devises will create the need for thousands of skilled technicians to install, sustain and maintain those sensor networks. Even better, if you have the skill and the curiosity, there will be an almost unlimited number of IoT applications that can be invented and turned into your own unimaginable business.
Ultra-Reliable and Low Latency Communications (URLLC) perhaps opens a duality of creating more traditional jobs as well as gig economy opportunities. Ultra-high reliability systems in applications like autonomous vehicles will come with regulatory controls but we already see many individuals starting up and running successful independent work with drone services. Certainly, maintaining a monitoring system for health care of critical patients will require a large regulated infrastructure but developing a gig economy position from providing in home care to those patients can be imagined, and even empowered with technology such as high-performance video and VR.
The promise of 5G will open more doors for everyone to explore new ways to enhance their own skill sets. Faster speeds, less latency and more access to educational materials through VR platforms and remote learning will replace much of the traditional learning processes of the past.
Early in my working career, I was given the very wise advice that the best single investment one can make is improving their own skills. When I think about the changes that have happened over the last 30 years in the way we work, I find that advise to be more important than ever!
If you, your team or perhaps your entire enterprise would like to learn more about 5G and the many associated technologies that will dominate the way we work in the next decade, please let me connect you to the library of training modules and the subject matter experts at 5G-Courses. Now is the time to be aware and start making the critical connections for your future.