People are concerned about having enough jobs for people as more and more jobs are taken over by automation. Indeed that should be a concern. Recently Larry Page suggested the best way to take care of this was by making everyone part-time. Let’s take a look at that suggestion.
Should all work be part-time?
In a discussion between Larry Page, the CEO of Google, Sergey Brin, his co-founder and Vinod Khosla, interviewer and long-time technology investor who tried to buy Google when it first started, Page said he has talked to a lot of people and asked them “Wouldn’t you like more time off? Wouldn’t you like to spend more time with your family?” He reported that everyone agreed they would like to do that. From that he made the leap to “let’s make everyone a part-time employee.”
I ask you, how would you respond to this? I would certainly say “yes.” But my next question would be “Would I be paid the same?” If the answer to that was negative then I would rescind my “yes” answer. I, like many of you, live a life style that is based on my current level of income. I have a mortgage to pay, a car payment, taxes, etc. that rely on that level of income. I think the better way for Page to have asked that question is “Would you like to spend more time with your family by having your job and income cut to part-time?” I don’t think he would have gotten positive responses to that question.
Is work moving in that direction?
Both Brin and Khosla agreed that the need for actual human labor is diminishing as automation takes over. I think labor in their terms is defined as “putting things together” and that is certainly going away. Even so, people will still be needed to perform “softer” work. Many people will not be trained to do this “softer” work and that will lead to unemployment.
I think as time moves along we will see a move to part-time employment being the norm. I hinted at this in a post I wrote called Is the “Gig” Economy the Way of the Future? and in one called Future Friday: Time-sharing employees. A number of things may lead to this. First younger generations are less material than older ones. Fewer are by houses in preference for renting. Second we are “training” younger workers to work part-time or “gigs” as referenced above.
This shift is not going to be a quick one. People are hesitant to give up things. Even if we move to part-time jobs many people will have two or three part-time jobs in order to fund their lifestyle. That defeats the purpose of using part-time to put more people to work. Additionally, it is more expensive for companies to have multiple part-time workers rather than full time workers. Additionally it will be more expensive for the country because healthcare will have to be provided in some way shape or form.
Despite the costs to individuals, companies and the country I see the world of employment moving in the direction of part-time workers. Ideally we can all adjust our lifestyles and it will have the effect of putting more people to work, but that remains to be seen.
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