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What Happens When Labour Gets Commoditized

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Recently I was triggered by something Han Mesters from ABN AMRO said on LinkedIn, referring to an article about commoditisation in broad sense. The thing he emphasised in his post was the commoditisation of labour. Interesting topic. I think it is vital to talk about the future of work; where are we heading, on what should organisations and people anticipate? It is important for organisations to think about the impact of economic, societal and technological developments and what the consequences are for its operational model and its workforce if they don’t want to be fully disrupted.

For me there is a difference between work, labour and the labourer. Work is the generic description we have given to how we spend time earning money. Labour is what we do in that time and the labourer is the person doing the work. It is important to understand the difference between these three, as they have all different reasons to change, be commoditised and what can you do against it.

Do not think this commoditisation is about replacing humans, it is mostly about the customer journey and growth. A Bloomberg research compares 2016 and 2017, and suggests that many of the jobs that disappeared in that certain period were lost because the products and services were bought less by customers, having an impact on the related jobs. Automation is certainly not the enemy here.

Work gets more substantive

Work is changing, not only how many hours we work in a week, but also why we work. It is more and more moving away from solely financial consideration. Personal development is topping the list; human ambitions are often driven by new experiences, the desire for lifelong learning and a good balance between work and personal life. Work is a way for people to fill their desire to achieve something valuable as a contribution to society and life. Changing the nature of  work could be a good thing for many people, because it would become much more fulfilling.

Labour will be less boring

Labour, or the specific job, is changing as something that was once new and unique will always be eligible to be copied, improved or eliminated. It has been the case since the blacksmith and even before, but today this shift is continuously accelerating. Jobs are usually a bunch of tasks of which some are likely to be automated. In order to be more efficient, save cost and get increasingly productive organisations tend to re-think and re-design their operational model and processes. Technology enables it, customer expectations are pushing it. By commoditising repetitive boring work, and automating it, employees get more time on their hands to focus on work that adds value to the productivity and customer experience. In that perspective, automation would generate even more work as the quality/cost perspective will increase demand.

Related: The Robotics Evolution: What Will Work Look like in the Future?

Labourers need to start a differentiation journey

What does all this mean for the labourer? Well, to avoid being outpaced by a job that is likely at risk to be commoditised due to the repetitive character, you need to stay ahead of the game. And do not think that because you have a high paying job, you are not at risk. Technology gets more intelligent every year. You need to think about how you can differentiate yourself and stand out; what is the specific added value to the job that cannot be done by a robot? What is your talent that could be really valuable to your organisation in terms of creativity, customer centricity and/or decision making? This evolution of work might even mean that you need to start re-skilling yourself, so you can become a part of the automation movement. If you are able to anticipate change, I expect you will not be out of a job any time soon.

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