Future of Work (Part 2)

Shock of the new

The world of work is changing – and some jobs are changing faster than others. The World Economic Forum’s “Future of Jobs” study predicts that 5 million jobs will be lost before 2020 as artificial intelligence, robotics, nanotechnology and other socio-economic factors replace the need for human workers.

The good news is that those same technological advances will also create 2.1 million new jobs. But the manual and clerical workers who find themselves out of work are unlikely to have the required skills to compete for the new roles. Most new jobs will be in more specialized areas such as computing, mathematics, architecture and engineering.

And the whole ecosystems are also emerging. Advertising on Google used to be something a small business owner could do herself, but has now become so complex and specialized that millions of consultants make a living from managing online advertising services. Facebook, meanwhile, created the social media consulting advisory business. 

A couple years ago, Google paid a select group of its employees huge sums of money to figure out which shade of blue users liked best. It sounds like a frivolous job, but the investment paid off: Google has earned hundreds of millions in extra revenue from people clicking on perfectly-blue ads. That’s the world we live in now, one in which odd-seeming jobs keep the world turning.

And if you think these aren’t proper jobs, ask yourself what someone growing up in the 19th century would have made of the fact that, in 2016, some of the world’s highest-paid people are running around after footballs. What would they have made of job titles such as psychologist, space lawyer, personal trainer or brand consultant?

At the same time, there’s a movement in the opposite direction, towards the tangible and authentic. The food industry is abuzz with enterprises that extol the virtues of local, seasonal, farm-to-table products and services – among them pop-up restaurants, street-food trucks, microbreweries, urban farms and cooperative shops.

How do you get a job that doesn’t exist yet?

As a legendary hockey player once said: success comes not from skating to where the puck is, but to where it will be. Skating to where the puck will be, is much easier than it seems, as long as you stick to a few basic rules: being curious, open, and ready to experiment and to follow the direction the world is moving in.

According to the latest research, soon we’ll only be as good as the skills we possess. But which skills do we need in order to face the unexpected? And how do we equip today’s school-age children for professions that don’t exist yet?

According to the latest research, soon we’ll only be as good as the skills we possess. But which skills do we need in order to face the unexpected? And how do we equip today’s school-age children for professions that don’t exist yet?

Employers are revamping their recruitment strategies. With the rise of the gig economy, portfolio career and hybrid job, what businesses want is workers who combine acumen with creativity, collaboration with good communication skills; people who can innovate and solve complex problems. Yet nearly 60% of businesses around the world say they are unable to find candidates who possess those skills.

Also, the skills we learn in the workplace will have more bearing on our future employability than the places where we studied or the previous positions we’ve held, according to the findings of the Human Capital Report 2016. And this isn’t limited to the skills we’ve already learned, but includes those we will learn, and want to learn.

So, which skills should we learn?

Analytics, accountancy and computer science are all probably safe bets when it comes to mastering an unknowable future, according to a study by David Deming at Harvard University. But while technical ability might get you into a job, they’re only half of the picture.

According to the same Harvard study, the jobs that have grown most consistently over the past two decades are those combining strong technical know-how with a single powerful characteristic: being nice. Social skills, or the ability to “play well” with others, is vital, finds Deming.

Want a job in 2025? These are the sectors to focus on

To compete in the future job market, workers – even those in occupations less directly affected by automation – will need to update their skillsets.

Here’s a look at a few of the fastest growing occupations identified by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), and the skills you’ll need to get them.

Software developer, computer systems analyst and market-research and marketing specialist jobs are set to grow by around a fifth between now and 2024, according to the BLS and the Future of Jobs report. For these jobs, technology and computational thinking skills will be vital.

Medical technicians, physical therapists, and workplace ergonomics expert jobs are set to see increased demand, as care-giving becomes an increasingly important skill in an ageing society.

Sales and marketing specialists and customer service representative jobs are also set to grow. Sales-related jobs are one of the top five growth areas, according to the Future of Jobs report. Social and emotional intelligence and understanding new media platforms and how to communicate effectively will be valuable skills, particularly while robots struggle to master them.

✓ In a fast-changing world, education and training jobs are expected to increase – at number six on the Future of Jobs report list of growth sectors.

Management analysts, accountants and auditors will see double-digit growth, with adaptability and business acumen being particularly desirable skills for these roles.

Moreover, according to Ayah Bdeir, CEO of the home-invention company, littlebits, a TED senior fellow, and an alum of MIT’s Media Lab, believes that 65% of jobs for the class of 2030 don’t even exist yet, so students need to learn a variety of skills to stay adaptable.

Here are five of the jobs Bdeir thinks could explode in the next 15 years.

1. Robotics Veterinarian

The line between biology and technology is blurring.

In 15 years, pet owners could be taking their furry friends to people who have more of an engineering background than a medical one.

Bdeir believes robotics vets will help live animals who may have prosthetic limbs or implanted chips, or animatronic animals — like Big Dog from Boston Dynamics — that need some careful rewiring.

2. Behavioral Game Designer

In the coming decades, Bdeir suspects gamification will become even more useful in helping people de-stress and get healthy.

In the same way, Pokémon Go helped a population of couch potatoes get up and move and fitness trackers turn step-counting into a high score, programmers will create clever apps and products that make healthy living the most appealing option.

Students will need skills related to problem-solving, computational thinking, and empathy.

3. Holoportation Specialist

Microsoft is already working on technology that lets you project your body someplace else, similar to how R2-D2 played a holographic message from Princess Leia in “Star Wars.”

The company calls it “holoportation.”

Bdeir says it’ll be the job of a holoportation specialist to make sure transporting someone’s virtual presence to another location is seamless and natural, much like how several companies are currently racing to make virtual reality as immersive as possible.

4. Climate Engineer

Scientists aren’t optimistic that we can reverse the warming effects of climate change, but future technologies may let us manipulate the climate to a certain extent.

Bdeir stands alongside others who believe geoengineering could mitigate climate change-related damage, bringing the carbon-polluted oceans back to good health and using technology like artificial trees to suck up carbon in the atmosphere.

5. Artificial Organ Farmer

Artificial organs remove the hassle of looking for suitable donors — doctors could just grow the necessary liver or heart and get patients back on their feet.

As scientists hone the process further, Bdeir says, students will have greater incentive to learn about the relationship between biology and tech. They could be growing stem cells in a lab or cranking out mechanical hearts with a 3D printer.

The big upside: There’d be virtually no chance of organ rejection.


No one really knows which jobs will be automated in the future. But one thing is clear: as machines become more pervasive, so too do the humans who teach and interact with them. As we’ve already seen in the airline business, autopilot didn’t put pilots out of a job; instead it foreshadowed an increasing collaboration between human and machine on complex tasks.

As automation gains ground, the human workforce has the intriguing possibility of further developing uniquely human skills that machines cannot match or replicate. In an unusual twist on industry practice, automotive giant Toyota is removing robots from its factories because human workers can, unlike their machine counterparts, propose ideas for improvement.

Machines, it seems, are not very good with innovation. They’re not very good at certain types of agility, either. Watch Parisian waiters in action and ask yourself how long it would take for robots to put them out of a job.

Then there’s empathy, creativity, leadership, intuition and social intelligence. If I were to give younger people an idea of the skills they’ll need, these would be on the list, as well as advice to pay attention to how machines function and think.

My piece of wisdom is “Learn your enemy’s language.” If machines are coming for us we need to understand how they function.

Credit: World Economic Forum


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