Category Archives: Changing Britain

Andrew McAfee – The Future of Jobs (summary)

In this TED video, Andrew McAfee makes some predictions about the future of jobs.

His overarching prediction is that very soon, technological advancements will result in fewer people doing jobs in the following sectors.
• Driving
• Customer server reps and trouble shooters
• People working in warehouses.
He does point out that people have been predicting mass technological unemployment for about 200 years, but this time it’s different because today’s machines are acquiring new skills such as being able to listen and speak.
Our future world, what he calls the new machine age, is one in which there is more technology and fewer jobs. He argues that this is a good thing because…
1. This allows us to continue the trend towards increasing productivity and lower prices.
2. Once androids are doing the work, we are freed from drudge labour,

McAfee is optimistic about the future. He argues that when more people are freed by technology, this allows us to imagine a totally different society – One in which entrepreneurs, financiers, and artists etc. come to together to imagine alternative futures. He even goes as far as to say that he agrees with the following words of Freeman Dyson….. ‘technology is a gift of God. After the gift of life, it is perhaps the greatest of God’s gifts. It is the mother of civilisation, of the arts and of the sciences.
He then poses the question: What could possibly go wrong?
Firstly, he says that the economic contradiction between increasing returns to capital and decreasing returns to labour that accompanies technological revolution still hasn’t been resolved – this is the same problem as Henry Ford realised a century ago – that decreasing wages means less demand, which is ultimately bad news for capital.
Secondly, he points to the social problems might emerge as we live in an increasingly polarised society in which more people are ejected out of the affluent middle classes. To do this, he invents two typical workers, Bill and Ted. Bill has no college education and is either employed in blue collar or low level white collar work, while Ted is college educated and works in a higher end professional job.

Through a series of graphs (that remind me of The Spirit Level), we are now shown that while Ted has maintained his social position in most respects after the first, Bill now faces a bleak future of increased marginalisation from the increasing wealth being generated…
1. He earns considerably less,
2. He is far more likely to be unemployed,
3. He is less likely to see his children go on to be upwardly socially mobile,
4. He is much more likely to go to jail.
5. He is less likely to vote.
This trend, of blue collar jobs disappearing is not likely to abate any time soon, because it is precisely such blue collar jobs that are under threat from new developments in technology.
One proposed solution to this is a guaranteed national income, which, he points out is far from being limited to Socialism, was in fact championed by the likes of Hayek, Freedman and Nixon.
He rounds of by saying that his biggest fear is that we could face a future in which we have glittering technologies embedded in shabby societies, supported by an economy which generates inequality rather than opportunity.
However, McAfee doesn’t think that this will happen because of growing awareness of the true nature (the ‘plain facts’) of the problems that we face and that this will result in a future of new technologies being used to allow greater numbers of people access abundance.

Britons more dishonest than a decade ago

A recent online survey of 2000 people conducted by reserachers at the university of Essex has found that Britons are more dishonest than ten years ago. The survey asked ten questions about whether they thought a range of activities were justified or not. Some of the key findings are –

  • A decade ago, 70% of people said having an affair was never justified but this dropped to just 50% in 2011.
  • The proportion who said picking up money found in the street was never justified dropped from almost 40% a decade ago to less than 20%
  • However, while 78% of people condemned benefit fraud in 2000, this had risen to 85% in 2011

The research also showed that young people are more dishonest than older people. Researchers have hypothesised that the social causes of this are lower moral standards of media role-models – some suggested examples include

  • Footballers cheating on their wives
  • City financiers selling risky mortgages and share options when they know they are no good
  • Journalists hacking into phone accounts.
  • For good measure – I could add Politicians fiddling their expenses, and of course the Harry Reknapp Story.

This is a great example of a longitudinal study – that’s also full of problems, one of the most obvious being that surely the most dishonest people just lie about being dishonest?!

The links to the actual survey aren’t working right now, but I’ll add them in laters!


Call centres – The New Dark Satanic Mills?

Check out this job posting from Reed Employment Services

‘Spanish plus another language Customer Service Executive- Edinburgh £14,000 – Working 40 hours per week based in Sighthill, Edinburgh Our client is a market leading outsource contact centre who provides an array of sophisticated customer management solutions to major international companies around the world, primarily in the communications, financial services, healthcare, technology’

It may sound pretty swish – but this is basically an advert for a job in a call centre – and you only earn £14, 400 – which puts you below the government’s poverty line (not to mention the fact that you have to be bilingual!)  
If you believe Mark Serwotka of the Public Services Union- Call Centres are among the worst employment sectors in the UK – he in fact phrased the title of this post. The extract below, based on interviews with call centre workers, and taken from Owen Jone’s Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class illustrates some of the miseries of working in a call centre –


By the look on his face, he's run out of 'toilet time'

There are nearly a million people working in call centres, and the number is going up every year.

‘Call centres are a very regimented environment,’ says John McInally, a trade unionist leading efforts to unionize call centre workers. ‘Its rows of desks with people sitting with headphones. There’s loads of people in the room, but they’re seperate units. They’re encouraged not to talk, share experiences, and so on…. The minute you get in the door, your moveemnts are regulated by the computer…. We’ve likened the conditions to those you’d have seen in mills or factories at the end of nineteenth century.’ Think that’s an exaggeration? Then consider the fact that, in some call centres, workers have to put their hands up to go to the toilet and computers dictate the time and duration of breaks, with no flexibility whatosever. Employees are under constant monitoring and surveillance, driving up stress levels.

Many call centre workers have told McInally that the whole experience is ‘very dehumanising’. People talk about being treated like robots. Everything is regulated by machines.’ The working lives of many operators consist of reading through the same script over and over again. According to the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, increasing numbers of call centre workers are being referred to speech therapists because they are losing their voices. The cause? Working long hours with little opportunity to even have a drink of water.
It's actually almost impossible to find 'real' pictures of call centres

That’s one reason why the sickness rate in class centres is nearly twice the national average, The other is deep alienation from the work….. annual staff turnover is around a quarter of the workforce. And, like so much of the new working class, the salaries of call centre workers are poor. A trainee can expect £12 500, while the higher-grade operates are on an average of just £16 000.

Twenty-eight year olf Carl Leishman has been a call centre worker in Durham for eight year. He works bruising twelve-hour shits, three days on a three days off. At his pervious job, stiff targets had to be met. Four per cent of his working hours were set aside for needs like going to the toilet or getting a drink. ‘You’d get ratings at the end of each month, and if you’d gone above those percentages then your rating would drop, affecting what bonuses and pay rises you were getting.’ Carl didn’t need to go the to toilet too often – ‘whereas some other people, like pregnant women, could really struggle to stick to that.’

His employers have a no-hang-up policy, even if the customer is swearing or being aggressive. ‘You’ll see quite often on the floor people in tears at the way people have spoken to them,’ he says. It is a job that can have consequences for your health, too. ‘Your throat gets incredibly dry. There are people I’ve known for years whose throats have gone from doing it. A lady I used to work with had to actually leave because her voice was just completely shot.’

At the core of his experience at work is the lack of control over what he does.  ‘We’re set in rows, which I hate, to be honest. It can sometimes feel very much like a chicken factory as though you don’t have too much control over what you’re doing: ‘This is the way your doing things, and that’s it, deal with it, because that’s the way it is, don’t think too much outside the box… you don’t need to think much for yourself.

Carl’s salary is just £14 400 a year.


Related Posts and Issues

The rise of the call centre worker is indicative of the rise of the ‘New Working Class’ – people employed in the service sector, often on low pay, and increasingly in temporary and part-time conditions (often suffering underemployment) –

The PCS campaigns for better conditions for Call Centre Workers and has put together this Call Centre’s Charter