#090: Interview with Sven Totté

In this podcast, Tina Persson,  the founder of PhD Career Stories has an interesting interview with  Sven Totté, who is a Management Consultant using the knowledge and the skills gathered over 25 years in different commercial and leadership roles in a large variety of industries. He is passionate about improving companies’ performance through organizational and business development, often enabled by innovative technologies. 

Finding, engaging and keeping the right talent is according to him the most important key to success, hence his deep understanding of the Future of Work including trends like the gig economy.His favorite missions are to build sharper customer experience, implement innovative value-adding services and shape happier teams.

If you are curious about gig economy and its definition, please listen to this episode.           

Enjoy Listening!


Transcript

Tina: 

Welcome all listeners to PhD career stories, it’s a podcast for PhD students made by PhD students and I have the honor to sit in Malmo, south part of Sweden, and in front of me I have a very interesting person, very excited about the interview with him and that is Sven Totte and he has a fantastic background, very interesting background so it’s very hard for me to wrap it up so I actually leave it to you Sven to describe yourself and give the audience a bit of a background who you are.

Sven :

Hello everybody, it’s great to be here. My name is Sven Totte. Today I work as a management consultant, predominantly working with small and medium sized enterprises, helping out with everything from strategic development, organizational development often linked with, you know, the implementation of new technology and exciting new business models. I do that in a variety of industries, either on the board level or working with C. level with, the management of the company. I have been doing that for about ten years. Before that I have worked in larger companies in different industries, telecom and banking and so forth, and I live in Sweden but once upon a time I was born and raised in Belgium in the wonderful city of Antwerp.

Tina:

Thank you very much and the topic we are going to discuss today, I know when I’m out meeting all the PhD students at university I really don’t know what it is, we call it the gig economy and both you and I we have been doing a lot of gigs but I know you’re an expert here in Sweden and explaining for companies about the new talent management how to recruit and identify top talents and I’m very proud I’m PhD myself and I know that many of the PhDs they are fantastic talents.

But what is these gig economy actually if you just start describing the terminology and the phenomena.

Sven :

Yes, so a gig is a short mission or task that you do, without a permanent connection with the person that asks you, the company that asks you to do. It has been existing for many many years so it’s the word gig is not new; what is new and what is growing enormously is these phenomena of online gig economy. It actually started maybe within a very simple tasks you know transporting things, doing very simple manual tasks or linked to the sharing economy where you share your car with somebody, which, you know, a company like Uber does that is also a gig, right?

I think what we will talk about more today is knowledge work where somebody’s competence or knowledge is being matched with somebody’s need for that competence and knowledge. And of course, there are some synonyms that link to gig like freelancing or new economy or cyber economy but basically it is not a small phenomenon, it is an enormous phenomenon, where there is, I would say, a more efficient way of matching the supply and demand of working capacity, in the simplest sense explained.

Tina:

Why has the gig economy developed, where does it come from?

Sven:

I would say that some people say that it is because of technology, technology is the reason why this is happening. My view on this, is that technology is an enabler, it is not the main driver. There are other various mega trends in that that actually all together help or drive the application and the growth of the gig economy. A couple of these mega trends, I just want to mention, are the fact that economical power in the world is being divided in a very different way than maybe years ago, in industrialization period where newer markets, like emerging markets, like China or India are growing much faster than the traditional industrial or developed markets.  But also how society is developing with the fact that people live longer and maybe it is not that obvious that people will work in the same career or the same job during their life, also the fact that there is much more focus on sustainability, so the fact that you go, travel to work every day and do a nine to five work or work from nine to five at the office is something that is being questioned. The fact also that there are now today different generations in the place of work or in the work market and all of these trends are actually driving more or less in the same direction and that direction is changing how we work, where we work, especially how the business regarding work is changing, so how do we find work and how do we get paid to do work and which type of contracts are the most normal ones if you deliver work to somebody. What I am not saying is that everybody will be a giger the whole of their life.  What I’m saying is, and what is clearly shown by statistics, is that more and more people are testing to be gigers or doing some gigs that could be either temporary work of course, or it could be full time work or adding on top of maybe a permanent employment they have. 

It could also be because they want to, because they want to do something else than their regular work or because sadly enough there are forced to because they can’t find anything else.

It could be that it’s combined with, you know, having retired from work but could also be that it’s combined with something that you have, if you’re studying but you also want to work for a couple of hours driving around food or helping somebody with creating a website or whatever.

So my conclusion is that technology is an enabler but the real reasons why this is happening is very strong and deep demographic, economical, societal and sustainability trends that are pushing this.

Tina:

Just listening to how you push it here since I’m representing the PhDs here we know the fact that some of the PhDs they consider it’s very hard to get the first job after the Phd after some years of postdoc-ing, this could be a possibility to show off your talent.

Sven:

Absolutely.

Yes, not only the first possibility to show off your talent, it’s also the first possibility to maybe make some money. Like I said now that the big growth of the economy is probably happening in emerging markets and for this the existence of gig platforms in different ways are allowing people that are in other parts of the world, that are not developed to actually very quickly come in to a possibility of making some money, if you’re really good at developing a website or doing data science or translating but you happen to sit somewhere in Africa, it is technically very easy to still deliver that service or help somebody here in Sweden and for them it either helps the companies or the organizations in Sweden or in Europe that need that help but it also allows for economical development in other parts of the world and that I think is a positive thing.

Tina:

So when I think about how I work is that I actually have two gigs helping me it’s just that I don’t call them gigs and I don’t go through the platform but the gig is that is connected to a technology driven platforms enabling the global perspective here.

Sven :

Yeah so if you look at the deeper definition of gig or gig platforms what actually these platforms do is they are better at matching supply and demand. And what is clear, what we predict right now is that they will have a significant influence on global GDP, the growth of the global GDP. Actually, it looks like only in the next ten years the value of what is happening in these platforms will supersede, will be larger than the value of comfort work. 

Agriculture, we’re talking about trillions of dollars here, two to trillions of dollars, why are they able to do that is because these platforms are able to match more precisely by knowing, having data about what kind of work is needed, matching that with the kind of skills, competences and availability they have, they also reduce this formality, when you’re finding a job, you know there’s formality like interviewing. They make that easier and less timely, less costly also. But also what they’re really good at is that these platforms are able to look for matches that human beings maybe don’t think about. And also if there’s more and more data in them that they actually are able to predict what kind of competence or skills are needed, when and where.

They are getting even better at when they see a gap in skills that they help people to maybe learn some new skills so these platforms are really contributing significantly already now but I think you know the effect of them will be, if you look at the next ten years, be enormous. 

Technology in this case enables really these trends that are existing. They really result in that more people actually find work, probably find work they enjoy, probably find flexibility in doing work when it fits them better in their private life so the work life balance. There’s a lot of positive things about.

Tina:

That is what I hear, it’s a lot of possibilities in this business here and I obviously can say, you know I’m coaching PhDs and some very technical driven PhDs that not necessarily, put it this way, that they find it very hard to survive the CV writing, to survive the interview. They have to perform some kind of, and they are not natural performers but they are very good in the technical skills. These platforms would actually ease them because they can be who they are, they would be selected for who they are by a machine without any people you know using the feelings and opinions.

Sven:

Yes things like you know human bias is taken away. You made a very good example about you could be very good at doing certain work but you’re not good at writing a CV. You know there’s other ways in catching your capabilities, your competences and proposing them to somebody else by not using your CV.

Tina:

Actually people are buying CV support so you get a template, it doesn’t show the person anyway.

Sven:

No but it’s a different subject. My belief is that CV which is basically a tool that has existed for more than five hundred years is not really the best tool in selecting and finding people. You need to look at other things like soft skills and so forth. And I think these platforms are getting better and better at capturing that and matching.

Tina:

Do you see any risks with the new economy, gig economy?

Sven:

Absolutely, there’s a lot of possibilities there which we can talk more about but straight into the point I would say the risks are that the platforms that really started this, the job deals that were made there of course exclude things like security and safety and maybe in the beginning also insurance. When people were biking around or driving around doing their gigs there was an accident for instance, they weren’t insured. But also now if you look more at the knowledge worker part of the gig economy, if you’re not in a job you don’t have an income and it’s more up to you as a freelancer maybe to organize your own pension, your own social security, your own health insurance and so and that I think in a lot of cases you know it’s still a little bit shaky but more and more you see that when there’s more and more people in the gig economy, and there is legislation is coming, is adapting more and more to these risks, it is getting better. I’m not saying it is perfect but there’s clearly risks for that, you know job security and safety and insurance is less.

Tina:

And that’s again, we are sitting in Sweden and we know we have working laws, unions, etc,… So this seems to be very far away from the traditional swedish working way so to say but if we go to other countries like, United States, UK, do you see global differences tp the attitude?

Sven:

Absolutely, you know, the tradition in this part of the world is that there’s a different kind of balance of powers between the employee and the employer and of course collective bargaining in unions is something which is just standard and the laws are also very much in favor of the employee. In other countries that balance is a little bit different but you see for instance that in the US where the balance is more to the employer, that the freelancing or the gigging trend is getting that big that they actually are freelancing unions. There’s a collective bargaining there and if companies do not behave, you see that the freelancers or the giggers are out on the street and protesting.

But also what happens is that if you think about sustainability and society, it is very quick that the customers and consumers of the companies that maybe misuse the freelancers are getting slapped on the finger very quickly so I’m an optimist, I’m positive. I think at the end there will be good regulation and fair regulation for both the people that take the work and the people that offer the work. There is certainly in certain parts of the world still unbalance there. I think the challenge is of course one of the reasons is that it is enormous hard work for politicians to update the regulations towards what, you know, the situation you suddenly have with the gig economy. You know just to realize that between 2017 and 2020 there will be an increase of the number of people working as a freelancer via gig platforms of one hundred million people in the U.S. and Europe combined. One hundred million people, that’s both people that do these as a full time employment or part time employment, is that a lot? Well if you know that when it started in 2017 there was about one hundred and thirty three million people, it is an enormous increase. So you understand that politicians were like “well hold on, how do we manage this”. Suddenly, it’s an important group to take into account, what they wish and what they want.

Tina:

Yes, and the companies, we are coming back to that, I think what we are talking about is talent management and recruiting future talents and again me having a PhD perspective because I consider that we have a huge PhD pool globally and also here in Sweden that is not used in the right way so when it comes to talent matching and companies, I mean we can talk about strategies in the gig economy and the new strategies companies is going to need to develop, any reflections about that.

Sven:

Yes so I think companies need to understand and some companies really do understand that this was a traditional set up, where employment is the, let’s say, baseline of how you make sure that you have the right people and you keep the right people, is being questioned seriously. Especially newer generation is not really accepting this compromise of having of course the security of a fixed salary and employment link to maybe the fact that they’re not working with stuff that they really really believe in or that they might want to do different things in their lives and also the fact that I think people will probably and that’s all generations will not work with the same kind of tasks or missions or responsibilities or activities during their life. With that I mean that there is I would say an enormous need for talent and competences in companies that is shifting the amount of people that are needed, that are working with simpler tasks lower cognitive tasks is reduced slowly surely. While the need for people that work with more advanced and more complex tasks, high cognitive, more human tasks like communication, like creativity, like problem solving but also people that really are good at STEM, so science technology engineering mathematics, that part is increasing enormously. 

To manage the availability of shifting I don’t think you can satisfy the needs in companies by just working with employment, fixed employment.

What those companies need to do?

Actually for me the philosophy is more that you need to make sure that you can find the right talent and you motivate that talent to come and work with you. You understand really why that talent chooses you as a company, for your values, for the work you can do, or the things it gives back to the persons. How it fits in their life and I think that that is a more important factor, once you’ve established that balance, that equation, that match, then you maybe ask the question how we would pay you. Do you want to be employed or do we pay you by the hour or whatever to set up is. But also the fact that probably people do not want to work full time their whole life, they probably want to do some extra other things because they’re able to do that, maybe it’s things they’re more interested in, or more motivated by. So also this thing about full time employment the whole time it’s something that probably companies need to be much more flexible about.

So it could be that the same person, to just round up that comment, that the same person starts with an employment, works half-time after a period of time, goes and works as a digital nomad, you know working in another place in the world for a period of time, getting maybe children, building a family and maybe at the end come back in an employment. So it’s more the fact that you attract and keep people close to you as a company because they want to, because you think they add value not because they happen to be employed by you. So it’s a little bit of shift of mindset.

Tina:

It’s a shift of mindset and it’s also shifting the mindset from, coming from where I am when I talk with a lot of people from PhDs, thinking: “Oh, I am unemployed!”, and I say: “No, you are not, you are just between gigs”.

So shifting the mindsets that I’m just looking for the next gig then I just need to find that company that can see me so I see these also as a huge possibility but this is mindshift so unfortunately I hear also from many young people that you know I’m looking for a permanent job.

I say what is permanent and in the end permanent is to secure that you have skills that other companies are interested in and like to have and if you develop them you know you will not be unemployed and without gigs.

Sven:

You’re really right and here I just want to point out what I think is really important, if there is something I want people to remember from what we talk about is that making sure that you are employable, that you are interesting for people that can offer you work is about lifetime learning.

Tina:

Lifelong learning yes.

Sven:

Lifelong learning, with that I mean that not so long ago it was kind of normal that you went to school and you learned yourself couple of skills and basically those skills or competences you gained there helped you, was enough for you for 30 years career. Yes, you needed to update some skills but basically that was enough and today that is not the case anymore. 

So the time you can use the same skills is being reduced drastically, different levels in different kinds of occupations but still. So it is really important that you as a human being or as a person take responsibility for making sure that you update and learn new things during your lifetime and but that way also learn other things which can give you other occupations or other jobs.

Tina: 

Yes, yes yes!

Sven:

You, you work a lot with PhDs, they’re probably good at, they have a lot of competences and they know how to learn new things and how to solve more complex problems. It’s just that you maybe can apply them in different areas than the areas they used to do their PhD in.

Tina:

Exactly!

Sven:

I can tell you that the companies I work with, they are in an enormous need of attracting these kind of people. There’s a lot of open opportunities and jobs, that could be you know short gigs or longer gigs or whatever. So it’s interesting to see that there is you know there’s open positions there but there’s also unemployed people that can find or can be matched.

Tina:

I go back to that I consider it to be a mindset shift and that is exactly what I’m working with when I do career coaching and workshops and all that so I find it as a huge possibility for the PhDs globally, this is a global phenomenon.

Sven:

It is.

Tina:

If I leave it to you now to ask yourself a question here, what question would you then ask that adds on to the interview here for the podcast.

Sven:

Not so many questions but I think what it’s, leaving a couple of thoughts here, if anybody is in doubt that gig economy or the things we talked about, are a kind of a small trend and that will disappear, no it will not, it is growing exponentially and I don’t think we have even seen the reel effects of it and I think also that the trouble we have is that the general statistics, the employment statistics, the national statistic, this phenomenon is not really captured.

Tina:

No it’s not!

Sven:

It’s only the last two years, I think that for instance Oxford university is measuring, or trying to estimate the growth and the mix in different countries, in different industries with something which is called, the online labor index. If you start matching or putting together this data, It is much bigger than what is really shown.

Also because the concept of borders or nations is a little bit challenged by these phenomena, because basically you can live in one place of the world and deliver work in another place of the world, the question is where do you earn your money, where is the invoice going to and where is the income coming and where is it taxed. It is just not measured in the right way if you look at the normal national statistics. So what I do really hope is that the politicians and the people that set the regulations really start grasping this and make sure, at the same time protecting people that are working more in the gig economy but also at the same time making sure that there is a stable and predictable environment for companies to attract people and offer jobs, gigs, whatever, to people. I would say I am challenging the politicians here.

Tina:

Yes they do. They challenge the politicians.

Sven:

We need to update the regulations more than fighting against gig work and having a lot of negativeness about, you now negative effects, but I’m very confident and I have seen companies really being able to grow and also people being able to grow because of these phenomena.

Tina:

I agree with you completely about the politicians. I listen to podcast actually to politicians and I felt that they were a little bit out thinking, they are still thinking regulations and I think this is not about regulations here because it’s global, so it’s going to be very interesting to follow. What I also believe and that it’s going to change the market, it’s going to change the company and it’s going to change the countries where the politicians work against the gig economy. There, I think the companies will actually leave these countries and go where they can develop the business because it’s competences based. They have no choice, they have to go where they find the competences to develop the business.

Sven: 

Yes, and because of technology it is very easy to deliver work, especially knowledge work, taking no account at all in nations and nationality. It is purely on what you are able to do, which competence you have, which skills you have, and if you are available and willing to do that work for that price.

For me, I think we have to embrace this phenomenon and I think we have to make sure that the regulations help to build a stable and safe and predictable environment for both companies and people that work in the gig economy.

Tina:

Thank you very much Sven Totte, it has been a pleasure talking to you about this new phenomenon and I’m quite sure I’ll come back to you later maybe in a year to listen what happens and what’s going on.

Sven:

I’m looking forward to that. Thank you very much.

Tina:

Thank you listeners for following us on PhD career stories. If you have any ideas or questions about this topic “gig economy”, don’t hesitate to contact us.

So all the best from Tina, in Malmö Sweden