The World of Work: Thriving or Surviving?

How can we thrive in the changing world of work?

This is the critical question posed by the Simon Fraser University’s sixth annual SFU Public Square Community Summit from February 26 to March 7 this year. Through its varied programs the Summit invites contemplation of shifting paradigms in the world of work from many different perspectives. Themes include technological advances, automation, climate change, alternative work arrangements that are part of the ‘gig economy’ and social drivers of change. Leading professionals and subject matter experts have been invited to join the community in discussions and dialogues.

On February 28, audiences were privileged to attend a conversation moderated by CBC’s Laura Lynch with Van Jones and Anne-Marie Slaughter two leading public commentators at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver.

We can get the future that we work for most of the time

Van Jones, a CNN political contributor, a best-selling author, and former green jobs special advisor to the Obama Administration inspired and humored attendees with his views. Time he reflected was seen as a cycle of seasons in the agricultural age. The past and the future were not seen as distinct to one another and so ‘preservation’ was seen as key. Since the industrial revolution, people viewed time in linear terms. The past was behind and ‘planning’ seemed important in the present in order to go towards the right future. But in the digital age, whilst the future is rushing at us, the key is being able to ‘pivot’. Our ability to adapt will set us apart as will empathy, intuition and creativity. Van pointed out that it is hard to automate any of these.

He also reiterated that future problems will require us to leverage and access all people and thus made an impassioned plea for greater social justice and equality. He highlighted that we will require teams with a range of diverse skills working in unity to solve future world problems such as pandemics or climatic catastrophes.

Ann-Marie highlighted three areas of work that humans might thrive in going forward in the face of new challenges and opportunities. These are the Care Economy, Craft and the Circular Economy. Child care and Care for the elderly will require growing number of human resources in the future as will other forms of Caring such as Health Care, Therapy, Coaching and Mentoring. She suggested that cottage industries of the past may see a revival benefiting from technological advances and the trend toward customization and personalization. Circular Economy refers to the continuous reuse of resources and regeneration of products and materials. Ann-Marie predicted a rise in jobs within the Circular Economy as urban environments are repurposed to meet different needs. She pointed out that the boundaries of life and work are blending and our infrastructure, emergent industries, education and public policy may also need to reflect these changes.

The biggest challenge isn’t learning, it is the unlearning

Ensuing discussions suggested that educators may need to establish greater opportunities for work integrated learning. Multiple scenarios of the future require a change in the mindset and commitment to lifelong learning. In the face of alternative work arrangements such as the gig economy and crowdsourcing, there is also a need to create better social safety nets for future workers and recognize, value, and appreciate unpaid work as work too suggested the commentators.

Some local businesses that had set up booths at the venue offered success stories with important lessons for thriving in the future world of work. The ‘Beta Collective’ is Surrey’s first co-working space providing flexible office and desk space to a range of different workers. They attract software professionals, not for profits and Vancity too has an office space there. The East End Food Co-op shared their model of a members owned food store. “We are Vancouver’s only and oldest member owned food coop.” said Dragana Panic who sits on their Board.

“We emphasise how customers are treated, how farmers are treated, how we can make community stronger not just how to be as inexpensive as possible whilst maximising profit” she added. Fairware offer ethically sourced, sustainable, custom branded promotional merchandise to businesses. Denise Taschereau, CEO and Co-Founder of this small business employing 12 people is chalking a new path in sustainable business. “Fairware is a benefit corporation and that is an important differentiator that sets us apart” she explained. Her philosophy is simple, “Let’s make sure what we are doing today is in keeping with the future we want to see”

‘Brave New Work’ Community Summit Continues…

Some of the key issues raised and discussed at this signature event will be explored in greater depth over the coming days. Join the conversations about structural changes to create equal opportunities in the future for all regardless of race, class, age, disability. The intersectionality of invisible labour discusses policies, systems and structures that may create fairer work opportunities for marginalized groups. Seniors and others may be interested to attend discussions on Work and Purpose Later in Life. There is something for everyone at this summit; how Metro Vancouver can diversify its regional economy, presentations for post-secondary educators looking to prepare students for work or even lessons on how Bit coins and Blockchain shape the future.

The event over the weekend Art, Labour and the Future of Work examines the role of arts and the aesthetic forces of production. Maybe this thought provoking symposium provides the answers… Does automation threaten to diminish the value and dignity of human labour or will it liberate humans to create their utopian future through meaningful creative work for the common good. Many of the events are free and the program for the rest of the summit can be found here


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