The Precarious Class, the Future of the Labor Market and its Technological and Organizational Impact Factors

This prescient monograph delineates the rise of the precariat in the wake of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, as robotics, automation and artificial intelligence can be expected to have adverse effects on job security, professional careers, and labor relations.

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In The Workplace of the Future, Jon-Arild Johannessen (2018: 1) argues that as process robotization and wage competition increase their pace, around 50% of service-sector and other jobs will disappear in developed countries. This is likely to lead to the development of a social class of precarious workers offering their expertise via temporary contracts. In contrast to innovation-oriented and knowledge workers, underemployed and underpaid individuals are, thus, likely to experience challenges with deriving value from their education and experience, due to competition- and automation-related pressures. On-demand, temporary and part-time work arrangements are constitutive of the emergence of the precarious class, as the economic preconditions for the existence of the middle class are dissolving (Johannessen, 2018: 6).

Moreover, the continuous cycles of financial bubbles, economic crises and rising inequality will also contribute to the emergence of novel educational and professional hierarchies closely attuned to market demands, competence clusters and information technology trends. This will put further disruptive pressures on extant careers, as marketplaces and organizations become increasingly dismantled and reorganized around automated, precision-driven processes with decreasing inputs of human labor. The replacement of bureaucratic and managerial hierarchies with digital systems, as Johannessen (2018: 35) suggests, is also likely to involve the increasing stratification between the salaried elite and the working poor. This is linked to the reinforcement loops that the Fourth Industrial Revolution establishes between global labor market flexibility, experience-driven service and product design and wealth creation (Johannessen, 2018: 42).

In other words, as supply chain and innovation circuits become globally distributed, value becomes increasingly created through structural coordination, closely-knit social networks and internationally connected, highly specialized competence clusters the performance of which is fueled by process automation and artificial intelligence, organizational de-bureaucratization and continuous expertise development (Johannessen, 2018: 50). According to this book, these processes can be expected to allow wealth creation to be propelled by automated information management, crowdsourced supply chains and interactions between customer experience and robotic systems.

The implications of these processes for the labor market comprise the growth in the importance of competence, productivity and talent, the predominant role of freelance, service-sector work for employment generation and the increasing complexity of organizational relations focused on specialized projects with an emphasis on technical expertise and soft skills, such as creativity and adaptability (Johannessen, 2018: 64). Consequently, on the one hand, this is likely to lead to the devaluation of academic credentials as entry-level requirements for a growing range of skilled and non-skilled occupations. On the other hand, these processes will also exercise downward pressures on wage levels.

Economic crises can only be expected to amplify these dynamics, as accelerated innovation attracts risk-oriented investment funds, triggers unstable financial bubbles in its wake, and generates a growing demand for innovative solutions for the social and other problems during the downward periods of these economic cycles. While likely leading to augmenting wealth creation and ownership inequalities, these processes also drive the emergence of the precariat, as education systems, information infrastructures and entrepreneurial environments place a growing premium on competitiveness, while leading to new forms of economic inclusion and exclusion (Johannessen, 2018: 70, 78).

By Pablo Markin

Featured Image Credits: Friday night, New York, NY, USA, April 22, 2020 | © Courtesy of spurekar/Flickr.


Johannessen, Jon-Arild. The Workplace of the Future. CRC Press, 2018. Accessed June 16, 2020.

Pablo Markin

Community Manager, Open Research Community