Monday, 11 October 2010

Working in the 21st century

I've felt for quite a while now that the arrival of the internet will eventually lead to a fundamental revolution in how we work. I was reminded by the article Innovation:Online army turns the tide on automation of  Amazon Mechanical Turk, an example of how this might play out. At the same time I also feel that this could lead to a revolution in the way our qualifications are assessed and gained.

Any business has a bunch of tasks that need to be done that don't need a genius to do them. They just need someone with basic a skillset. Til now you'd bring in a temp and train them up. Hence you've got to pay for the overheads they bring. The tools they need, the space in your office, even holidays. And you've got to pay the agency fee. Surely the internet can do a better job.

Amazon is now trying to be the middle man, the agency. They've provided a place to manage the tasks, rate workers and even gain qualifications. it's no surprise to me that they've added this accoutability to the process. At the same time they're making it easier for people who might struggle in gaining academic qualifications get some basic qualifications. Sure they're only relevant int he amazon context but then if this grows enough then it may be all they need to get decent references.

My point is really that if you think distributed then you'll break your work up into the stuff that you can outsource like this and the stuff you need done in house. Then you can improve your profit margins by only paying for what you need to outsource. Hence you're more likely to survive.

Workers get the freedom they don't currently have of truly being able to pick and choose the work they do. They pick when they work and have some say over what they get paid. they can also decide how much time they put in.

Both sides gain. At the moment I still see this as a young immature market but I can only see it growing. It may take many years to gain acceptance and Amazon may not have the winning solution. That's to be seen. But the concept is, for me, a real winner. Particularly for the next generation. If I were 16 again and wanted a little money then I think this approach would draw me in. I could do work at 11am when I wake up or 2am when I'm bored and can't sleep. I don't have to go out when it's freezing outside. It's not perfect it probably doesn't pay brilliantly at first, but the flexibility and freedom would be a real draw.

The impact on qualifications is huge. Amazon have provided a place where you can pick and choose the qualification level of those who work for you. I expect it's quite simple at the moment but it wouldn't take long  before this could handle much more complex qualifications and you might be able to cherry pick the particular qualifications you require. Being very specific in your requirements becomes possible due to the scale of the workforce you're targetting. We're talking hundreds of thousands and potentially millions instead of thousands.
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