The changing nature of work

The Nunavut Implementation Commission is organizing a conference next week in Iqaluit to get people thinking about how they work, the jobs they might one day hold, and to look for better ways to combine work and life in Nunavut. Work: employment, especially the opportunity of earning money by labour, laborious occupation: engage in bodily or mental work. Workforce: workers engaged in or available in an industry. Worker: employee, especially in manual or industrial work. Working: engaged in manual or industrial labor. Workaholic: person addicted to working.



Defining what “work” is and what “having a job” means is getting much harder.

For many people, work means getting up in the morning and leaving your home for about eight hours to go perform some task for which you get paid.

Of course there are always variations on traditional jobs, but most people in western industrialized countries look for jobs to help support and feed themselves and their families.

But the people who study work for a living, who write about changes to the workforce and try to predict the future of work see many changes coming – and some are already here.

These futurists study employment patterns, demographics and trends, and many say we have to start looking at work and jobs in new ways.

Industrial work disappearing?

“In the coming century employment, as we have come to know it, is likely to be phased out in most of the industrialized nations of the world,” writes Jeremy Rifkin, in his article, “After Work” published in the Utne Reader in May/June 1995.

Rifkin, and others who write on the subject, say technologies and the explosion of the information sector are leading us from what they describe as a post-industrialized era into the “information age.”

As we move towards an information-based economy, employers will be looking for people to perform certain specialized tasks, and will only need to pay them as long as the work needs to be done.

That means more part-time employees, contract employees and consultants – and fewer full-time employees.

People who want jobs will have to keep improving their knowledge and skills to meet the changing demands of the workplace. The education system will also have to adjust to allow people to easily return to learn new skills.

Conference for Nunavut

The Nunavut Implementation Commission is holding a Future of Work in Nunavut conference March 3-5 in Iqaluit to try to get the people of Nunavut thinking about some of these changes, and to try help people better prepare for their own future.

People across the North will be able to watch some of the conference on Television Northern Canada.

People in Rankin Inlet, Cambridge Bay, Igloolik, Baker Lake, Gjoa Haven, Grise Fiord, Repulse Bay and Taloyoak will be able to do more than watch – they’ll be taking take part in the discussions by remote two-way video conferencing.

The Inuit Communications Systems Limited (ICSL) will set up a video system so people in those communities can talk and interact with the conference participants in Iqaluit.

People with hearing and seeing disabilities will also take part as will people in wheelchairs or with other difficulties that limit their mobility.

Lynn Jamieson, from a company called Infometrica, was hired by the NIC to help organize the conference. Jamieson has been studying the Nunavut workforce and the makeup of our population and is looking for possible trends.

Changes will affect Nunavut

While she says she’s not an expert on Nunavut, she says the changes happening in the rest of the world will also change the way we work in Nunavut.

She says people have to decide how they want to divide up the work that has to be done to make their communities run well. That means deciding who does the paid work and who does the unpaid work that also must get done.

“Some people are basically dead on their feet from working and other people are going without work. What’s wrong with this picture?” Jamieson said.

She said there will likely be more part-time jobs, more job-sharing, and more self-employed people working from home.

Some unpaid work, like taking care of children and managing a home, is being done mostly women, she says, and society has to recognize and assign a value to that work too.

Sharing work

Since many people in Nunavut have never completely adopted or accepted the Western industrial work patterns, they may find it much easier to embrace new ways of doing and sharing work.

Many Inuit in Nunavut value other activities other than work such as spending time with family or hunting and camping. They’d be willing to give up work for more time to pursue those activities.

“This is what the rest of the world is trying to get but it’s going to be a lot harder. They have to undo their patterns,” Jamieson said. “In Nunavut those patterns are not entrenched… the world could learn something from Nunavut.”

Jamieson says younger people will have an easier time adjusting to the changing work patterns because many of them don’t expect longlasting full-time jobs, and are used to bouncing around from one job to another, picking up new skills as they go.

“In many ways, young people are already living the future of work,” she says.

Fitting work to the climate

The harsh climate in Nunavut also means that many people don’t relish the idea of working dawn until dusk during the brief summer season when the bulk of the construction work is done.

She says some countries in Europe measure their work in hours per year and not per week. In that system, people can bank overtime so they can take long periods of time off.

That type of system could work well for people in Nunavut who might want to work longer hours during the winter in exchange for time off in the summer months.

“It makes sense that people take advantage of the weather when it is there for them,” Jamieson said.

Knowledge-based industries

Since Nunavut doesn’t have a highly-industrialized economy or workforce, people here may be able to skip the industrial era and jump right to the knowledge-based industries.

That means educators and planners have to decide what skills and curriculums they must develop to help people best prepare for what lies ahead.

Not everyone is confident that the changing nature of work is going to improve people’s lives.

Jeremy Rifkin questions how the average person is going to benefit from the explosion of new information technologies.

“Less clear is how this new high-tech technology might benefit not just the high-level corporate executives, investors, and knowledge workers, but also the vast majority of people,” Rifkin writes.

Jamieson says technology does replace some jobs, but it also creates many others.

“Technology is a double-edge sword,” she said.

More leisure time

If fewer people are working, then Rifkin says there are other possible advantages for society as a whole.

“For the first time in modern history, large numbers of human beings could be liberated from long hours of labor to pursue leisure and community activities.”

Rifkin suggests that a shorter work week, tax credits for volunteer work and new work in the non-profit sector are ways to help a society cope with massive job losses.

Mike McCracken, the chairman and chief executive officer of Infometrica, will deliver a keynote address on recent patterns and trends in employment, and many Nunavut leaders will also take part.

NTI President Jose Kusugak will give a presentation at the Iqaluit conference entitled, Work and the Nunavut Agreement.

Keewatin youth delegate Jimi Onalik will talk about the aspirations of the youth of Nunavut, and other panelists will talk about what needs to be done to prepare Nunavut for the coming changes.

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