Within 20 years, says Shukan Asahi (Oct. 7), “the full-time employee will have disappeared.”
Is this good news or bad? Calamity or opportunity? Is something being given us, or taken away?
“Working Conditions in 2035” is the title of a labor ministry report released in August. Among its 30 pages are several imagined “case histories.” The ones Shukan Asahi summarizes are pretty sunny. “A-san” (as we’ll call her) is 50 now, a company accountant. “Fifteen years ago” – which is to say, in 2020 – she lost her job to an artificially intelligent robot. But she’d known it was coming and prepared accordingly. She acquired qualifications as a health counselor and “now” – in 2035, aged 69 – works at a hospital, assisted by (you guessed it) an AI robot.
Then there’s “B-san,” an automaker employee who’s 36 now but (in the report’s scenario) will soon leave to start a company manufacturing driverless “guard machines” to scare intruders away from private property. By 2035, age 55, he’s filling orders from “more than 50 countries.”
A new world is being born as the old one dies. The cost of failure to adapt will be redundancy – and with life as long as it has become, that could mean a very long twilight. Imagine, on the other hand, a full and productive life free of office routine, office hours, office infringement on your private life.
“With smartphones and Skype and other communications devices,” says Tokyo University economist Noriyuki Yanagawa, “work can be set free of time and space. Full-time attendance at the office will be unnecessary, making it easier (for example) to combine work with child care and nursing.”
Young people in 2035 will be astonished to hear that once upon a distant time people joined companies out of college and, if possible, stayed for life. There will still be companies, but not as we know them now and have long known them. The office will be a base for the setting of goals and the launching of projects. The project once launched, you’re on your own – come back when it’s finished. And when it is, that as likely as not will terminate your involvement with that particular “employer.” It’ll be on to the next project – with another employer.
That’s one scenario; there are myriad others of course. Some companies even now are visibly on their way to 2035 – Shukan Asahi cites the software developer Cybozu as an example. Its employees have nine work formats to choose from. How many of your work hours do you want to spend at home, and how many at the office? Choose the format that fits your lifestyle. If it fails to satisfy, you can adjust it next month. And if you want to take on a side job, you are free to do so – the one proviso that your outside work not be to Cybozu’s detriment. You’re not even obliged to report it to your boss.
This is a foretaste and a model of things to come. Freedom to change implies an obligation to change – fast. For some it will be too fast. The old lifetime employment has no future, Shukan Asahi makes clear. It was secure but stifling. The air is fresher now, and will be fresher still in 20 years. As for security – “What’s that?” we can imagine a youngster asking in 2035, if by some unlikely chance the word happens to come up.© Japan Today