Moonlighting makes sense
The author is a professor of business administration at Ewha Womans University.
Technology and labor have wrangled for 200 years. Advances have lessened the need for human labor and offered more rest time. At the same time, the increased productivity from new technologies has made human labor redundant. Machines have replaced manual labor and taken factory jobs. With artificial intelligence added, they threaten to steal service and office jobs.
American social theorist Jeremy Rifkin in 1995 warned about “The End of Work” in a celebrated book. As he had prophesied, jobs where industrial robots were employed have declined. Offline work in services is also sharply disappearing through the application of digital platform technologies. Through fast digitalization, banks that pay over 100 million won ($84,638) a year on average have stopped the regular recruitment of college graduates.
Although advanced technology is widely expected to overwhelm human labor, the pandemic crisis of the last two years underscored the irreplaceable human role. During the Covid-19 outbreak, the role of machines was limited, whereas medical professionals to diagnose and treat patients have been short.
In the United States, a substantial number of workers are voluntarily retiring from work across. They have become burned out from the protracted pandemic situation. Grocery stores in New York are out toilet paper due to a lack of work force in logistics. New technologies like unmanned vehicles and delivery drones have been little help.
Korea also has been showing a phenomenon incongruous to the end of labor era. While young have become dejected from job shortage and wealth handouts, some young people have been sharing their work as excavator and forklift operators on YouTube. As speed and delicacy are essential in heavy duty training, those in their 20s and 30s can pick up the skills through their aptness from playing computer games.
There was news of a young woman who quit her work after graduating an elite university to work as paperhanger in apartment construction site. Young people engaged in low-skill work have increased 120,000 to 599,000 this year from four years ago. The young joining the blue-collar profession as carpenters, paperhangers, heavy machine operators or farmers highlight the sacredness in hard labor.
Labor has also become important as a second job. Many are opting for a gig job as salary is short. A poll found four out of 10 salarymen have had a gig job and recommend others to so the same.
Many companies prohibit employees from having another job. But the 52-hour workweek and remote work environment created extra time and the liberty to pursue other diversions or money-making ventures. A report published in a U.S. journal showed that voluntary moonlighting with clear motivation can provide psychological security to offer more stimulation to the full-time work. Whether a second job is for economic reasons or to apply one’s talent, it can help remodel one’s life through extra labor.
Even when technology can advance to replace human jobs, it cannot be a match for human persistence and potential. There may be a limit to human endeavors against fast changes in the job environment through rapid progress in digital technology. The government role would be important. Germany has been working on a labor policy along with digitalization of industrial structure.
To sustain human power in the work force, retraining in the work field and lifetime training program for the broad society must take place. According to a report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the cost of retraining a worker from a job under threat from automation accounts for 1 to 5 percent of the GDP a year.
Instead of handing out hard-won taxes in personal allowances, the fiscal money must go to enhancing jobs and work security for the people.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.