Global job market: the old new thing

The global job market is not a new idea.

Globalisation brought with it a new category of employee: a highly skilled professional, with an excellent command of English (possibly other languages as well) and a willingness to work in any location needed.

Bigger cities all over the world have thriving expat communities (actually a great portion of them being British nationals). People move around the world freely for business or leisure purposes and it is not a problem nowadays to easily transit the globe.

But, have you ever thought of a global job market, which does not involve any travel at all?

It is not a futuristic dream, it is happening already. And with advancements in technology and the ups and downs of local and global job markets, it will become more widespread.

Outsourcing is one of the most common forms of globalisation of a job market. You think you are calling your local bank but you end up speaking to someone in Mumbai. A process is simply shifted over to an external provider based either locally or abroad. It is the outsourcing provider’s cost and headache to find, train and retain suitable people willing to perform what usually is a mundane job. The idea is that you as an outsourcer get some value out of doing it that way, i.e. either cost savings or a better service, better MI, etc. And some jobs are done reluctantly at home but enthusiastically abroad.

Traditionally, outsourcing organisations were located in economies where labour costs are low. However, a trend of bringing the call centres back to the UK demonstrates that cost is not always the main concern and value and opportunity is what also matters.

Crowdsourcing is another form of outsourcing. It involves groups of individuals based at their homes all over the world in front of their computers performing a repetitive piecemeal work coordinated by a crowdsourcing organisation. The collaborators are recruited through the web and can be dropped and replaced easily without the usual hassle of hiring and firing.

Crowdsourcing is currently used to great results in tedious tasks involving sensitive or secret data. The technology allows the tasks to be digitalised and then sliced and diced into micro tasks so an individual only sees a tiny fraction of a document, e.g. one field of a form. A crowdworking individual does not know who else works on the same task so there is no risk of them putting the pieces of the puzzle together.

Crowdworking allows access to cheap labour in quantities and ways impossible to have been achieved before. It eliminates the problems associated with local job markets, i.e. finding enough people able and willing to perform a specific type of job in a commutable distance from the workplace.

Crowdworking may not only apply to traditional office jobs. There are currently projects underway testing the use of robots controlled by crowdworking humans. Robots can be controlled remotely via a video stream by a web browser to perform even delicate tasks such as picking up, carrying and unloading the dishes. The company running the project via Amazon’s crowdworking platform Mechanical Turk believes this method could be used in production line work or possibly in care for the elderly (checking the gas on the cooker is turned off!)

Now, take a look at Elance, a virtual global marketplace for freelancers. The idea is simple: individuals or businesses all over the world post a job on Elance internet portal and other individuals and businesses from all corners of the globe pitch for that work. The competition is fierce with representatives from growing economies taking advantage of their low price point. Again, a local job market becomes irrelevant when you can access talent from all over the globe.

Businesses will always be driven to find cheaper and more efficient solutions to whatever problem they face and sourcing the work from where it is easily available and cheap may hit the spot for many of them.

Hiring from global markets to meet local needs opens up totally new opportunities for businesses. It also creates dilemmas of an ethical nature. If all businesses start doing it, the unskilled and low skilled individuals in the local job markets are going to face permanent redundancy (as we begin to see now). It could become equally challenging for skilled local people, whose jobs could be performed remotely and crowdsourced.

The professions may not be able to protect themselves from the vacuum caused by limited work for a proportion of the population. No wonder parents have become obsessed with providing the right schooling and opportunities for their offspring. Although education is no longer an insurance policy against unemployment, it is helpful.

The social challenges emerging from this transformation of job markets will be challenging. Improving pupils’ attainment in education is rightly one of the government priorities. Limiting social alienation for those long-term out of work should be another.

Whichever way we look at it, the era of a local job market is now officially over.

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