What is the future workplace going to be like? What can you do to future-ready yourself in a world of unknowns? Prof Nilanjan’s new book tells it all.

“Once there was a bunch of lawyers who came to a seminar at a prestigious foreign university,” Prof Nilanjan recounts, “and they were talking about how their jobs are actually changing because of automation, and later, that conversation, in another context, really got me thinking: okay, so what is this future of work we’re talking about?”

Shaping the futures of work
Professor Nilanjan Raghunath (a.k.a. Prof Nilan) from SUTD’s pillar of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (HASS) shares what attracted her to SUTD. “I came here because I was excited by the fact that it’s very interdisciplinary,” the passionate sociologist recalls. “It was a very cool thing, particularly for me, because I really like to look at connections between highly varied things.”

“Innovation excites me, so I really wanted to know what the social implications are of these things,” she relates.

And it was this passion (and lots of cake and coffee) that inspired Prof Nilan to come up with her new (and very first) book — Shaping the Futures of Work — a book that examines the relationships between millennials (you’re a millennial if you’re aged between 26 to 41!), proactive governance, and the impact technology has on the future of work from a sociological point-of-view.

So what does the future of work look like?

Our future’s in flux
In her book, Prof Nilan discusses the concept of a flux society “where change is not the only new constant. We also have to be prepared for risks, failure and reinvention.” And this is what millennials like to call “disruption”.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is well upon us, and disruptions in the workplace are only going to be more pronounced (remember what the lawyers said about automation?). Those who can’t keep up will eventually be displaced. And millennials, unfortunately, aren’t safe as well.

The millennial misunderstanding
Contrary to popular belief, Prof Nilan posits that millennials aren’t as future-proofed as many (or even themselves) may think. In fact, they’re equally, if not, even more vulnerable than the other generations — even though they are the savvy disruptors; the agents of change.

“Millennials are working with a lot less guarantees,” she says. “Lifelong employment doesn’t exist anymore, and they’re dealing with a lot more risks because of the massive changes that are going on.”

“Nobody is going to be permanently tech savvy,” she continues. “So what are you going to do about that?”

SkillsFuture for the win
One way to deal with this, according to Prof Nilan, is to “reskill, upgrade, and be flexible.” But that’s not entirely the responsibility of millennials alone. Governments and businesses should also come together to start the right conversations, and provide the necessary infrastructure to support these retraining efforts.

Our very own SkillsFuture, a government-led initiative that promotes the habit of lifelong learning, is an excellent example. “This is what proactive governance looks like,” Prof Nilan illustrates. “It’s more about being proactive. About knowing what kind of steps to take so the workforce can continue to thrive, even in difficult times.”

The future of work begins with you
If there’s one thing you should take away from this book, it’s the fact that technology is ever-evolving, and no one can stop it. While there are various modes of support to help us to adapt, what matters ultimately “has very much to do with your own values, and ideology of how you deal with flux.”

And Singaporean millennials are, in some important ways, ready to take on this challenge. Prof Nilan’s research has reflected that they are one of the most pragmatic groups of people, in that they tend to make and have backup plans to safeguard their future. But will this be enough to future-ready themselves? You’d have to read the book to find out!



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