The collision of demographic changes, the rapid spread of automation and rising income inequality will have the potential to trigger an unparalleled major economic and employment disruption far greater than we have ever experienced. Understanding and planning for these inevitable disruptions will be vital when future-proofing jobs.
In fact, there's a total of 62 challenges workers are facing in their workplaces.
People don't plan to fail. They just fail to plan and future proof themselves for the inevitable.
While fear is a normal human emotion and may paralyze us from taking action, it's complacency that will ultimately kill them and their jobs.
We, therefore, have to constantly pay attention to what's going on around us. We have to be vigilant, flexible and adapting to landscapes that are constantly changing and shifting.
Fear mongering sells
Every day, we read about robots taking over our jobs.
"Will robots take my job?"
"The robots are coming for your jobs."
"Robots will steal your job."
"Robots are the ultimate job stealers."
We also come across findings from Gallop which found that in the US:
- 58% say new technology is the greater threat to jobs.
- 23% worry that they may lose their jobs to technology.
- 76% say artificial intelligence will change the way people work and live.
- 73% say artificial intelligence adoption will result in net job loss.
Just like there is no one property market in any one country, there's also not one single conclusion that we can derive from the threat of automation, technology, and artificial intelligence.
It should be noted that predictions of widespread job destruction could be overstated by many especially when we take demographics, economics, income inequality and job creation into account.
There are limiting factors to automation
Let's be clear.
Each country, each geographical location, and each job market and industry is very different. Demographics are different. Economic growth is different. Organizations are very different.
To say that robots will be taking over our jobs is not that true, yet.
(For the purposes of this article, I have used the term "automation" to include robotics, artificial intelligence, and all things technology.)
There is a cost involved in deploying technologies. Organizations need to be able to quantify and justify the benefits over the cost of investing in any technological solutions. While it is easy to say that automation will take over our jobs, the cost of doing so may be too prohibitive for some organizations.
Depending on the country and geographical location, organizations may not be able to justify the huge monetary investment in technologies, yet. 'Cheap' labor may be in abundance. Access to capital and technology may be difficult. Access to people skills to deploy and maintain new technologies may not be present.
McKinsey has said that automation will not happen overnight. For them, there are five key factors that will influence the pace and extent of its adoption:
- The technology must be feasible and it is invented, integrated and adapted into solutions that can automate specific activities.
- The cost of developing and deploying solutions must not be prohibitive.
- Labor market dynamics including the supply and demand and the costs of human labor can present an alternative to automation.
- Whether these new technologies have tangible economic benefits that could be translated into higher throughput, increased quality, and labor cost savings.
- Whether the technology has regulatory and social acceptance that makes business sense.
McKinsey also noted that while the impact of automation might be slower at the macro level within entire sectors or economies, they could be faster at a micro level.
This is where an individual worker's activities could be automated quickly. Or organizations may use automation to overcome possible disruption caused by their competitors.
In short, there are certain limiting factors that may prevent automation from being deployed in mass and ultimately take over our jobs.
Job losses due to automation are inevitable
Whether we like it or not, we know that automation is here to stay. It's inevitable. It's a question of degree or level of impact.
How automation impact each one of us will depend on our unique circumstances in the country we live in and how well prepared are we.
Humans have embraced automation since creation. We have been transformed by automation; from agriculture to an industrial age, from industrial to information age, and from information to services.
In fact, we cannot get enough of the latest gadgets, latest iPhone, latest TVs, etc. We constantly fill our lives with the latest technologies.
With Apple's Home pod, Amazon's Echo (Alexa) and Google's Home, voice technology is only going to grow. Kids today can simply command Alexa or Apple's Siri to answer various questions.
It's no surprise that we will always be embracing technological advances and inviting them into our lives.
So, what's different in our work lives?
Don't be surprised that automation will penetrate our work lives even more and will fully transform or recreate the work we do.
We know that there's always the danger of automation on jobs.
Here's the good news. History shows that new technologies have always increased the number of jobs.
And the bad news. Technology always hurts as recognizable jobs are destroyed and new ones are created. Some jobs are yet to be conceived. It's a question of when not if.
McKinsey estimated that 375 million people globally will need to be retrained to learn entirely new occupations. It means that people in mid-careers with children, mortgages, families, and financial obligations, will need retraining.
This retraining is not going to be measured in years. It's not going to be feasible for many of these people to go back to universities for two-year degrees.
The challenge is to retrain people in mid-careers on a large scale and help them learn new skills to match employable jobs in growing occupations in places where they live.
Opportunities are plentiful
As they say, with every danger, there will always be opportunities.
There are opportunities to future-proof ourselves now from the potential impact of automation. It does take several years for automation to fully replace our jobs, but it is the time now to take action and prepare ourselves for the inevitable technological disruptions and transformation that automation will bring into our workplaces.
We know that automation will ultimately replace our jobs. Paying attention to this trend will help us prepare ourselves to adapt and change for the future.
By taking proactive action now, we can future-proof ourselves, our jobs and our income sources from the likely negative effects of automation. We are able to overcome our fears and eliminate anxieties propagated by fear mongering.
Let's stop worrying about the future and take action now.
Pay attention to what's going on around us.
How do we future-proof jobs and prepare ourselves?
Just two words: "Interaction" and "technical".
It boils down to focusing or equipping ourselves with higher human interaction and technical skills.
Let me elaborate.
There are two parts to any automation rollout.
Firstly, we have the hardware itself. We need the right engineering and design skills to develop, produce and deploy the hardware required for automation to take place.
Secondly, we need highly technical skills and subject matter expertise to research and program the "brains" behind the hardware to achieve the results we want.
At its height back in 2000, Goldman Sachs employed 600 traders buying and selling stock on the orders of its clients. In 2017, there are just two equity traders left. Automated trading programs have substantially taken over the rest of the work supported by 200 computer engineers.
McDonald's new tech initiatives are pushing employees to continuously perform more tasks without any change in pay. The push for more tech-infused ordering avenues like mobile apps, delivery, and self-order kiosks is making it harder for workers.
The company saw a 50% increase in revenue earned per employee. Numbers like that could make McDonald's more likely to adopt more technological solutions, even if they take a bit of adjustment for the workers.
Without a doubt, computer programming will become a core skill requirement for many well-paying jobs. This will lead to further inequality in pay between the haves and the haves not.
Coding skills will be in demand across a broad range of careers. The ability not only to use but also to program software and develop applications is often required of business people who create websites, build products and technologies, and conduct research.
It's only through the learning and application of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) that we will be enabled to effectively develop, program, and deploy machines.
STEM education should be the pre-requisite for future-proofing jobs.
When we rely on automation to help us work better and as we outsource our work to machines, we will free ourselves to do the work that requires higher level skills. It's about moving from physical labor to brain power thinking, creativity and analysis. It's about developing higher value skills relevant for automation and transformation.
When we rely on automation to replace labor, we need more human interaction in its place to bring about the required changes. Teamwork and collaboration of people across the world will become ever more important. We need to find the right global technical skills to help us solve problems and manage change.
We will rely on our human interaction skills to get things done, to collaborate on technical projects, to make decisions, and to find solutions to problems through crowd-sourcing methods.
This means that we require higher interaction skills for person-to-person, team-to-team communication. These high touch skills will become so important in the future.
In essence, the future of work is about human interaction and technical skills.
When we cannot add value to the design and implementation of machines or cannot harness the potential of people to perform at their peak alongside machines, then we should naturally worry about automation taking over our jobs.
When we know that the future of work is fundamentally about higher human interaction and technical skills, we should be focusing on gaining these skills now rather than waiting for things to happen.
Complacency will kill jobs
We have been graciously given the knowledge about what the future looks like on a silver platter.
"Will robots take my job?"
The answer depends.
When we are complacent and do not adapt ourselves to the inevitable changes impacting our jobs and environment, then robots will certainly take away our jobs and income.
When we fail to anticipate the future and minimize the effects of shocks and stresses of future events like automation on our jobs, incomes and income streams, we are really setting ourselves up for failure.
Complacency will kill our jobs and incomes.
Ask this question: Do we have the right human interaction and technical skills to survive the onslaught of automation on our jobs and to remain employable into the future?
The key to our survival in the future is constant retraining or reskilling. We cannot hold on to our past training and education to save us from losing our jobs to automation.
The reality is that the half-life of skills is about five years. This means that in five years' time, half of our current skills will become obsolete. In ten years' time, without any retraining, we will become totally obsolete.
Complacency will ultimately kill our existence. Don't let it be you.