HR/HC, Digitalization, and the Rise of Useless (or better use Precariat) Class

Spending few hours in Senayan area yesterday, I had a very nice discussion with an HR leader, in which she asked my opinion on digitalization of HR and work in general. She started with this question: “Do you believe that digitalization is the right thing for the future of HR (and work)?”. I mean, yeah, I am a strong believer – as we actually don’t have any other choice – because the future is indeed digital and I even have discussed it in some of my previous posts. Anyway, I also shared some other points to her yesterday, which I also want to share here.

Narrowing my view into Indonesian context, I have several worries – if not scares, which brought me to step in into more realistic paradigm toward the future in HR and workforce. Despite of many conferences, seminars, discussion, and talks related to HR and work digitalization, I’ve never really heard Indonesian company(-ies) declared or shared such significant impact from their HR digitalization process. I do hope their efforts are still on progress and will soon show those desired impacts. In the other hand, challenges are continuously being mentioned by them, those include leaders’ commitments and workforce readiness. Lack of leaders’ commitment might lead to less optimum investment in the digitalization process (and its related issues). However, I would only focus to discuss how I feel scared to even think about the workforce readiness in Indonesia, in respect to this very rapid digitalization process.

Days ago I just got time to read Youval Noah Hararis’s book entitled ’21 Lessons from 21st Century’. I have read his previous amazing 2 books (Homo Sapiens and Homo Deus) yet found this book is a bit different as he wrote mostly from what’s really on his mind about several issues in this near future. It’s interesting as he discussed about ‘Work’ in the beginning of this book (Part 1, Chapter 2, p.19) – which might indicate how he really concerns about this particular topic. He opens the chapter with his view on how machine learning and robotics will cause human being to lose their jobs and to gain such new jobs. In short, he argues that the process of creating new jobs in the future “will probably demand high levels of expertise, and will therefore not solve the problems of unemployed unskilled laborers” (p.29). He adds that “Creating new jobs might prove easier than retraining humans to actually fill these jobs”.

Illustrative: Workforce Crowd (Creative Commons 4.0 BY-NC )

What he’s trying to say is actually that there might be such gap between the speed of technology development in workplace / work digitalization (which lead to new jobs) and the human development (the process of retraining/re-skilling), in which would create – in Harari’s term – “useless class” of society. The suffer would be two sides actually: the rise of unemployment or “useless class” and the shortage of talent/skilled people to fill in the future jobs. Well, I personally don’t want to use this term of ‘useless class’ as it sounds too harsh, but only to show how scary the future would be for those who couldn’t keep up with the development. I will stop using the term in this paragraph.

Seeing the available data in Indonesia, recorded unemployment rate in August 2018 is 5.34% of the workforce, or around 7million people (, 5th Nov 2018). Yet, the data also shows that from all the workforce, 27.5% is considered as industrial labor and another 11% is considered as zero-hour contract labor – in which the risk of losing jobs because of technological advancement / digitalization might be higher than those considered as small-medium-large entrepreneurs (and even social workers) (, 1st May 2018). The latter was actually addressed by Prof. Guy Standing as a precariat class (from the word: precarious) in his book entitled the Precariat (2011). In short, these precariats are people who “lack of 7 labor-related securities” (p.10). I personally am not quite agree with this precarious situation to be considered as a social class. I see that each person, even with so much privilege of higher education and top position, do have their own types of precariousness. I addressed my concern to Prof. Guy Standing himself when we met in the University of Oxford this spring during the 2018 Global Scholars Symposium. Anyway, I captured these 7 points from Prof. Guy Standing from his book for you:

Screen Shot 2018-12-18 at 18.34.31
7 labor-related securities (Standing, 2011)

We can see the fact that Indonesia still has ‘a homework’ on unemployment rate, yet this country also need to start doing works to address the risk of the precarious workers, which the number is considerably high. Nevertheless, without undermining the government initiatives, we might need to wait a bit too long if we only waited them to really work on it. There might also debates on which responsibility is it to prepare the future workforce – government or industry? Cliché answer would be: both. Therefore, let’s start to address this issue from the industry side.

As HR/HC practitioners in Indonesia, what could we do to address these two issues: the rise of precariat class caused by technology advancement / digitalization and the shortage of skilled talents to fill in the future jobs? I might not discuss each questions too detail here as it would be really such a long writing – but I am open to connect with you if you want to discuss about it further.

Potentials answers might be categorized into at least three groups: “what to do in order to prevent jobs from being lost, what to do in order to create enough new jobs, and what to do if, despite our best efforts, jobs losses significantly outstrip job creation” (Harari, 2018; p.34). Yet, whatever the solutions are, we need to make sure that the very priority we need to protect is humans – not the jobs (Harari, 2018; p.24). In regards to that, I would further discuss a term which related to human: reinventing yourself.

By reinventing yourself, doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to be reborn into a new human being – rather on changing your mindset (business capabilities), equipping with new set of behaviors (behavioral capabilities), and re-skilling yourself (technical capabilities). The consequence of such continuous and rapid digitalization / technology advancement, however, will place the reinventing process as not a one-time effort.

This comes the opportunity for HR/HC practitioners and business leaders to transform its workplace as a future-focused laboratory, by providing rooms for their employees to continuously reinvent themselves through experimentation and exploration from their jobs – without leaving the essence of doing/achieving current business goals. Today’s nature of workforce, however, demands such ‘hyper-individualism’ – which actually give benefits to the companies to leave the reinventing process to each employee, but at the same time will create unstandardized level of required skills for the future of jobs (in which companies would need to improve their recruitment process to attract talents with ‘self-driven reinventing skill’). On one side, whether to make it a collective or individualized (which government could also intervene here), this reinventing process is highly necessary.

Designing jobs and organizations that provide rooms for its employee to actively and to continuously reinvent themselves (e.g. by not creating too rigid system or process, increasing level of involvement or authorization, diversifying or scope enlargement of role of a job, applying an internal gig-employment, etc.) would not only help their employees for not being categorized in precariat class anymore, but would also give positive impacts to the companies, because such future-focused talents would be ready to support the business transformation as well.


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