Roopa Raveendran-Menon Autobot and the perplexing future March 13, 2020

I recently worked on a project where I had to put together an article on upskilling for the future. While preparing the article, I chanced upon a report with an interesting title: ‘The Lost Workforce,’ one that conjured up my memories of similar phrasal use.

I stopped and reflected.

It was in Ernest Hemingway’s book ‘A Moveable Feast’ where Gertrude Stein used the phrase ‘génération perdue’ or ‘Lost generation’ to refer to Hemingway’s generation. According to her, she picked up this phrase from a French garage owner who had serviced her car. Little did she know that it would become a catchphrase for years on end.

However, what is ironic is that while this conversation that took place around 8-9 decades ago may have provoked Hemingway then to think about other generations lost by something, is still relevant today and demands a fresh slew of soul searching and questioning.

Today, we are hurtling towards a future where a lot of our jobs and roles stand to disappear. The report on the future of work in America released by McKinsey & Co had some cold facts to share. “Nearly 40 percent of US jobs are currently in job categories that could reduce between now and 2030.” But, while we are busy grappling with this situation, the question that I want to ask is this: Are we in danger of getting lost or becoming obsolete?

And no, I don’t mean it to be another what came first: chicken or the egg? I, rather, use it as a germ to discuss and initiate a conversation around how these evolving scenarios in our jobs and work roles could reflect our thought processes as a generation. Have we been setting ourselves up for this all these years?

Psychologist Dr. Jean M. Twenge in her book ‘Generation ME’ discusses how Gen Me-ers is redefining what it means to be an individual in today’s society. According to her, today few rules apply, and that today’s generation are driven by their individual needs and desires, and that we are told to follow our dreams, to pursue happiness, no matter what, and the stakes have never been higher to be different and to do what’s right for one self.

Dr. Twenge also notes that this is a growing social trend that ties all the generational changes together in a neat, tight bundle: do what makes you happy, and don’t worry about what other people think. She also highlights how this approach is enormously different from the cultural ethos of previous decades.

I wonder if it is this hapless pursuit of Me, Me & only Me attitude that has spilled into how we perceive our careers. As per an article appeared on Forbes long time back, the 9-5 job is almost on its way out with more and more millennials pursuing freelancing and self-employment. The statistics get more mind-boggling.

Apparently, 60% of millennials are quitting their workplaces in less than three years. With 87% of companies reporting a cost of between $15,000 and $25,000 to interchange each lost millennial employee, industries are stepping up their game and have started paying attention to structural changes.

While there has been an attitudinal disruption that we have to deal with, on the other side, technologies have been meticulously nurtured and groomed to take our place. And upskilling ourselves is the only path in sight to survive the compounding extinction of jobs. According to the PwC CEO survey, 80% indicated a concern with talent availability and their accountability for ensuring that current workers are requalified regularly.

While we may think of upskilling as a possible magical wand that gives us the best and consistent results in the workplace, the questions remain: is consistency the answer to all troubles, or is it this relentless pursuit of consistency and perfection that has led us to our current situation?

To this, I quote few lines mouthed by the principal character Adam Jones of the 2016 movie Burnt, a movie that is more than a eulogy to Michelin star restaurants and passive-aggressive and thoroughly spoilt celebrity-chefs.

Cut to a scene in Burger King in London where Adam Jones is eating his lunch amidst the clatter and din of a busy fast food joint. He is joined by another remarkable character, the talented Helene, and during their verbal exchange, Helene quickly points out how consistency is a hallmark of a great chef when Adam Jones interjects, “No, a chef should strive to be consistent in experience, but not consistent in taste.”

It is hard, in today’s climate, to perceive that this valuable observation resonates only with chefs.

Perhaps, as we yield to the power of upskilling to find our way back to where we belong in the career universe, it is worthwhile to remember to invest in soft skills that are in line with our attitudes and intuitions.

And, as our journey continues, and we keep looking for our answers to the disappearance of jobs in our educational systems, our approaches, our conditioning, and societal norms, somewhere far away, in a clinical laboratory, an Autobot is getting ready and being groomed to take my place.

While it may be able to effortlessly imitate my locutions in record time, there is one thing that I am convinced it can’t– to emulate the emotion behind it.

That much I believe…for now.

unsplash-logoMarkus Spiske

Roopa works as a content writer, based in Dubai. Some of her short stories have been published in international literary magazines and included in some Indian anthologies. When she is not busy chasing project deadlines or writing fiction, this self-confessed Sylvia Plath addict loves staring into space, tuning into Netflix, and dabbling in tarot card reading (not necessarily in the same order). Say hello at roopa.raveendranmenon at gmail dot com.

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