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A Jobless Society?

The rise of robotics creates many opportunities for a safe, clean and efficient world. But it creates also the fear of a jobless society. Many jobs are at risk. Carl Frey & Michael Osborne (2013) gave an overview of jobs and how probable it its they will disappear. If you go through the list you can indeed fear the jobless society.
If you look at the jobs that are unlikely to disappear one thing is clear:

  1. they are not the high volume jobs
  2. they require trust and a personal touch
  3. they require creativity

JoblessAnd that’s not a surprise. In out attention economy we will not automate those jobs that touch who we are. You could automate psychotherapy, but we don’t want it. We still want a doctor in medicine to be present during surgery. We do not want to give our children to a robot. Unless robots can develop human characteristics like empathy, fairness, kindness and reciprocity we will keep a separation between us and them.
Also, humans are still better at certain things than robots are. But let’s not be complacent. Technologies evolve fast and we will see the birth of a humanoid robot that can integrate in society without problems. For some that is scary, for others it opens a world of opportunities.

New Jobs are coming

Also there will be new jobs. These new jobs have not so much to do with robotics alone, but also with societal evolutions.
Thomas Frey (2014) listed 162 new jobs. Some of them are a variation on the same theme. But the list shows a new set of new skills like change, optimization, analysis, dismantling, feedback and learning, problem-solving, ethics, philosophy, … In the fields of environment, the internet of things, mobility, city-design, water management, sharing economy, self-development, robotics and drones, 3D-printing, wearables, data exploitation, new currency management, energy, biotechnology, the aging population, innovation, … we will need people with those new skills.
But this strikes me.

  • If we think of new jobs, many of them are cognitive. The less cognitive and more operational jobs are easily automated. We need to maximize cognitive development.
  • These jobs are either policy driven or project-based. They are not necessarily routine enough to create long-term employment. People will need to be able to repackage their skills according to the demand of talent.
  • These jobs seem to be ephemeral. People will need to reinvent themselves and evolve as society, technology evolves. This demands highly developed learning skills.
  • As we are leaving “proven technology” people will need to be open to take risks. These jobs demand entrepreneurial skills.

Review the list above. What do we have to fear? We have to fear a binary talent market. On the one hand there will be the high-end jobs that pay well and give a window to the future. On the other hand we will see a growing number of low-end jobs.

Rethink the Talent Market

This evolution is not new. We see this now already. And this could be a risk if we would not correct the talent market. We need to prepare for a different kind of talent market. The future talent market will be one with less fixed employment. People will negotiate directly with the one who offers a job. People will be hired for a job, a project, an assignment. A career will be a quilt of jobs. You might think that this is just wishful thinking. Some people will be afraid of an uberization of the labour market. Some people regret this evolution. That might be so. But one thing I know: the talent market of the future will be more volatile, less protected, more competitive, more uncertain. So we can regret this or do something.
Here are some suggestions to make sure we have a talent market that is ready for the future:

  • Open up the education system: people need to learn skills that are future-proof. People need to be constantly introduced to new technologies, new insights, … They have to learn to be critical and creative. They need to learn to think (for themselves). They need to learn to gather and analyze data.
  • A recent Securex Research Report shows that attrition is going down. That’s a problem. In order to be able to survive in the “jobless” market of tomorrow people need to change jobs. Job Mobility is an answer to tomorrow’s new challenges.
  • People need to build caesuras in their career. Doing the same thing all your life is not an option. Some people would call this a portfolio approach. People should not bet their future on only one job. And let’s enable people to experience this as early as possible.
  • Hybrid Careers are essential. People should combine tasks. This is possible within a company, but employers can stimulate people to get a side-job to acquire different skills.
  • Make sure there is sufficient regulation in the talent market. Recent introductions of minimum wages in the US, the UK and Germany are good examples of how to correct the Talent Market.

The future is not jobless.

I do not share the pessimism that our future will be jobless. We are facing so many societal challenges that we will need people to do tasks. However, we will see a shift in the nature and quality of jobs (if we will call them this); And we’d better be prepared. Our biggest competitors will not be an army of robots, but mostly people who have acquired the future-proof skills.
Let’s discuss.

David Ducheyne is the founder of Otolith. As a former HR and business leader he focuses now on humanising strategy execution.

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