Doomsday claims about unprecedented levels of labor-market disruption and job insecurity are widely disseminated online. One such claim was made by two Oxford University researchers Osborne and Frey. They warned that technology will destroy 47% of U.S. jobs in the next 20 years, a bleak outlook for future job-hunting humans. However, when think-tank ITIF analyzed all 702 U.S. job categories (something that Osborne and Frey did not do) to manually assess the likelihood that technology will substitute a human worker, it came to the conclusion that 10% of jobs were at risk of automation.
Another recent study, which also challenges the alarmist view of automation and artificial intelligence as a threat to future jobs, indicated that this false alarmism “contributes to a culture of risk aversion and holds back technology adoption, innovation, and growth”.
There is a growing consensus that the focus needs to shift away from which jobs technology and digital transformation will eliminate, and move toward a discussion about what new jobs for humans technology—especially automation and AI—is going to create.
In fact, the World Economic Forum estimates that 65% of children who entered elementary school as early as 2016 will end up working in jobs that don’t yet exist. Or in the words of authors Rob Atkinson and John Wu, J: ”Technology clearly creates jobs when it enables the creation of whole new industries and occupations”.
Technological disruption in the future workplace
According to Deloitte’s report Navigating the Future of Work, technological advances such as artificial intelligence, robotics, sensors, and big data are not only creating new jobs but also entirely new ways of getting work done.
First, technological advances are making it possible for organizations to access workers worldwide and reduce the cost of routine tasks through automation.
Second, organizations are adding value to their business thanks to the ability to access specialized workers no matter where they are physically located.
Third, technologies from AI and AR to 3D printing that enhance human capabilities are increasingly accessible to smaller companies.
The debate is not human against machine. The question becomes how people and machines can complement each other based on a concept of humans and technology working in partnership.
What will the jobs of the future be?
As a result of the fast pace of technological disruption in business today, hard skills are becoming obsolete, rendering soft skills (research, communication, and problem-solving skills, along with teamwork and creativity) increasingly important.
So, what will be the best jobs or careers of the future? How different will the jobs of the future be from the jobs we have today? Which of today’s professions will remain prominent in the future?
According to Project CHREATE (The Global Consortium to Reimagine HR, Employment Alternatives, Talent, and the Enterprise), the next generation of leaders will need skills in marketing and brand management, information technology, finance, corporate relations, and even community activism.
Project CHREATE’s top five picks for the professions of the future: 1.) organizational engineer; 2.) global talent scout, convener and coach; 3.) social policy and community activist; 4.) virtual culture architect; and 5.) data, talent & technology integrator.
One global study of more than 1,000 large companies already using or testing AI and machine-learning systems identified three new categories of AI-driven business and technology human jobs.
Trainers: human workers needed to teach AI systems about how they should perform. At one end of the spectrum, trainers help natural-language processors and language translators make fewer errors. At the other end, they teach AI algorithms how to mimic human behaviors.
Explainers: people who can bridge the gap between technologists and business leaders. Explainers will help provide clarity, which is becoming all the more important as AI systems’ opaqueness increases.
Sustainers: individuals who can help ensure that AI systems are operating as designed and that unintended consequences are addressed with the appropriate urgency. For example, an ethics compliance manager.
The authors went on to point out that some new jobs of the future, like ethics compliance manager, are likely to require advanced degrees and highly specialized skill sets; whereas as others, like empathy trainers, for example, may not need a college degree.
College admissions consultancy Crimson Education published a list of the top ten jobs of the future, which reflect the changes digital transformation is bringing to industries like healthcare, energy, and transport.
Whether an empathy trainer with a high school degree and specialized training, or a commercial space pilot with an advanced degree in aerospace engineering, the digital transformation process taking place in diverse industries to one degree or another begs the question: what do all of these jobs of the future have in common? Simply put: they respond to industries’ needs as organizations respond to the challenges inherent in the digital transformation of their businesses and the changes in how business is conducted.
In choosing the best career path of the future to follow, workers need to evaluate today how they can adapt and leverage their knowledge and experience to develop the hard and soft skills they need to be part of the new job economy.
For leadership teams, the future of jobs represents a three-fold challenge. First, they must clearly identify the skill sets they will need their employees to develop in order to ensure the success of their digital transformation initiatives. Second, they need to make sure the training and professional development opportunities are available for their employees to acquire those necessary skill sets. Most HR professionals and leadership teams will say both of these objectives are on their radar, if not part of a current employee engagement initiative.
But the third challenge is a bit trickier.
Mass customization, a concept first coined by futurist Stan Davis in his book Future Perfect, provides an interesting framework for understanding the role of organizational leadership in creating the jobs of the future.
Tseng & Jiao (2001) defined mass customization as “producing goods and services to meet individual customer’s needs with near mass production efficiency.” Applied to talent management and HR, it means taking a customized approach to talent management that emphasizes the individual needs and strengths of each employee in a reliable and scalable way.
“If companies can figure out a way to acknowledge and respect the uniqueness of each person – and then figure out how to do that in a reliable and scalable way – we will make an enormous impact on individual employees’ success and on our companies’ collective success. The paradox is that we need to establish a norm that is itself abnormal.” – Joe Kalkman, Leader of HR Centers of Excellence, Best Buy.
As employees ask what the professions or careers of the future will be, organizations can help by identifying how the unique characteristics of each individual employee are best suited to fill their organizational needs moving forward.
By making sure the job fits the individual, and not trying to find the individual to fit the job, organizations will ensure the success of each individual employee, and their own as an employer of the future.