Where Will the Jobs Be in the Digital Age?

By Julie Norwell

Technological advances transform the landscape of the global workforce. Developments in robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) are at the forefront of workplace change. These herald a future of automation that make work drastically different from yesterday and today. Today technologies do tasks that originally may have been believed that only humans could do. And the technology trend continues. Analysts from such august institutions as McKinsey, Brookings, and MIT anticipate change. They say that the disruption in the labor force caused by technological advances will be of a similar magnitude as the Machine Age shift. The economic model changed from the agrarian economic model to the model ushered in by the Machine Age. Some speculate that it might even be greater.

Such dramatic prognostications are fodder for alarmists. Alarmists warn that robots are killing jobs. However, you shouldn’t panic. Yes, some jobs will be fully automated in the future. However, most jobs are likely to change rather than disappear entirely. And many new jobs will emerge. Many of those new jobs we can’t even imagine.

Jobs in Transition

McKinsey is a Global Management Consulting firm. McKinsey is in an ongoing effort to study the future of work. In a January 2017 report analysts studied 2,000 work activities across 800 occupations. The report found that the majority (60%) of all occupations could automate at least 30% of activities. It also found that almost every occupation has some automation potential. However, given current technologies, less than 5% of all occupations can be automated entirely.

In other words, occupations will change. And very few jobs will be automated away.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t worry. In a related report in November 2017, McKinsey estimates that by 2030, 75-375 million people globally may need to switch occupations. Not surprisingly, the jobs lost to automation involve physical activities. And these are in very predictable environments. These environments are manufacturing, food service, and hospitality. It also includes the collection and processing of data. Such as in certain financial work and back-office transactions.

Future jobs will require technical skills. Skills like math, statistics, and logical thinking will be necessary. Comfort with data will be essential. We expect to see “hybrid jobs.” Hybrids jobs are ones that combine disciplines in ways that we haven’t seen before. Increasingly, humans will work side-by-side with machines. We will use skills that machines cannot match. These are especially skills that rely on social interactions. But, jobs for managing people, applying expertise, or research and writing skills need a human touch.  The more “human-centric” a job is, the less likely it is to be absorbed by automation. Such “human” jobs are likely to involve four basic competencies. Sometimes called the “Four C’s.” These are creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication.

In some ways, older professionals are well situated for “human” jobs.

Why? Because older professionals have been in the workforce longer than younger professionals. Older professionals are more experienced. Older professionals have acquired valuable interpersonal skills. These professionals have expertise serving them even though the work landscape has changed. But in the Digital Age, no one can afford to rest on his laurels.

In a 2017 Deloitte report, analysts anticipate that the half-life of skillsets will decrease to five years. For example, today’s in-demand technical skills will become less sought after as more workers become skilled in those areas. Meanwhile, the demand for expertise in other areas will grow. Above all, workers must constantly up their game and make their own opportunities.

Factors in Job Growth

Demographics, climate change, and global economic forces are all determining factors in job creation by 2030, too. The aging society has been a catalyst for job growth in the healthcare industry. Climate change challenges and rising energy demands will spur jobs promoting energy efficiency. Investment in technology and infrastructure by government and business will make changes, too. They will beget jobs in technology, construction, and construction-related sectors.

Historically, developing technology creates more jobs than it destroys. For example, McKinsey found that since the advent of personal computers 3.5 million jobs have been lost. However, 19.2 million jobs were created. That is a net gain of 15.8 million jobs. Looking ahead, McKinsey forecasts that new jobs will result from growth in current occupations. Growth will also come from the creation of new types of occupations that may not have existed before. If history repeats itself, job growth will more than offset jobs lost to automation.

Specifically, McKinsey reports, “the categories with the highest percentage of job growth net of automation include healthcare providers. Professionals such as engineers, scientists, accountants, and analysts. IT professionals and other technology specialists. Managers and executives whose work cannot easily be replaced by machines. educators…; And ‘creatives’ which is a small but growing category of artists, performers, and entertainers who will be in demand as rising incomes create more demand for leisure and recreation.”

Tours of Duty

Government and businesses must implement policy changes to smooth the technology transition of work. They need to train and retrain people. Government and businesses must accommodate demands for new and different workforce skills. Healthcare will be retooled. Income support systems must promote fluidity in the labor market. Government and businesses must help displaced workers find employment.

By all appearances, these institutions have a long way to go. Andy Wyckoff is the director of the Directorate for Science, Technology, and Innovation at the OECD. He writes that governments lag behind the need to adapt policymaking to the fast pace of technological developments. He also says the gap is widening. But businesses aren’t doing much better. According to a Deloitte survey, employees give their learning and training departments a low -8 net promoter score. They complain of outdated learning management systems and legacy content. The smart worker shoulders the responsibility to continually learn new midcareer skills. The smart worker adapts to changes in the employment market.

Reid Hoffman is LinkedIn’s co-founder. Hoffman views careers today as “tours of duty.” He notes that workers stay at a given company for just a few years. Hoffman believes the time has come for a new employer-employee compact. Hoffman says that they each need to acknowledge the impermanence of the relationship. Meanwhile, both need to build trust and investment. This will result in an alliance that offers both parties value in the long run.

In other words, companies need to attract and retain talent. Companies that are offering real skills to their employees. Those companies offering new relationships and the opportunity to enhance their personal brand, will retain their employees.

Is a company not offering you these things? Look elsewhere! Long-term job security is slipping away. However, learning and development opportunities are the hallmarks of a good job. These are your ticket to a better career.

For more information on the future of work, read Where Will Your Office Be In the Digital Age?

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