Jobs in the 21st Century

In continuation of my post wherein I had highlighted the skills that kids need to be taught for thriving is 21st century, or the  C3S (Creative + Critical + Collaborative+ Systems) Framework they need to be trained in ( also highlighted in the Infographic) I want to present a vision of the world they will be competing in. So in a sense I want to present the problem now whose solution I had outlined in my previous post.

To give you a sense of the economic world that will be upon us in coming 4-5 decades let me present two dimensions of it. The first is how technology will impact the job market of future and secondly as a consequence, its cumulative impact on the future of economies as a whole. Both of these views, the elemental and systems, of our financial future are pertinent as with one we get a sense of what should we prepare for and with second what we should be wary of.

Now it is a forgone conclusion that technology or to be specific general purpose technologies are game changers. With their adoption and absorption, they unlock a whole new economic gear. In last 600 years there have been four very clear general purpose technologies which have underpinned entire human economic growth. These are printing press, steam engine, electricity and digital processing and communication. They have been assimilated at varying rates in different sectors of any economy, however wherever they have landed, the impact has been akin to changing to next gear when driving a stick shift auto. So from that metaphorical auto perspective, human economic wagon is currently driving in its fourth gear. My contention is that the economic world is about to discover its fifth gear in coming decades. This general purpose technology which like Midas touch will leave nothing untouched is knocking at our doors and it is machine intelligence.

The first and most visible impact of machine intelligence or smarter machines will be that jobs requiring drudgery of mental work will get wiped out. Much like what assembly lines of 20th century did to physical labor, smart machines or bots will do to mental labor. Once mental labor gets automated and the crunch work is gone, next will be jobs which require nothing more than learning one or two routines. Jobs that entail a minimal cognitive functioning like driving, housekeeping, ticket vending or collecting, call centering and other customer servicing functions will become extinct. In other words jobs which are cognitively not complex and do not entail too many judgments will be easily and cheaply performed by machines of moderate intelligence. Thus the bottom of the job pyramid (comprising of many blue collared and base white collared workers) or the largest batch of people who have a basic schooling from the current public education system will get maximally impacted. In 21st century they will have a fight of survival on hand.

Next to get hit will be people who in current economic dispensation are called professionals like attorneys, doctors, accountants, marketers and engineers. The research part of their job as well as predictive routines of their work, will also get automated. In other words people who have expertise in line work or are functionally entrenched will be impacted by the machines who acquire specialization in their fields of operation. They will have to upscale, acquire a niche or go cross-functional. Their’s will be a fight to adapt.

In the world of future, some humans need not apply:

Least impacted will be small band of people whose job is to produce creative outputs, do advanced research, provide human touch or do blue sky thinking. Their demand will rise as world will continue to integrate and this globalization will bring on increasing systems, diversity, cross-cultural and leadership challenges. As environment degrades new moral and social dilemmas will be discovered along with new viruses and predators. New set of problem solvers will be needed who will not be constrained by academic disciplines, geographic boundaries or technical challenges.

This new world will also go on to produce new jobs in areas we haven’t yet considered. Smart machines will affect factory production processes as well as home upkeep systems and will necessitate skills sets of being able to handle micro-production as well as customize machine intelligence for specific purposes. Machine intelligence will also revolutionize medical sciences as procedures too complicated for humans to handle will be commonplace thus will need professionals versed in medical algorithms. The frontier of space will open up (much like new land beckoned in ancient worlds and sea in mercantile economy) which will generate jobs when humans map it for resources (from planets & asteroids), hardware (satellites & spacecrafts) or merely recreational purposes (excursions). Here is one curated list of top 10 jobs that are awaiting for this future to happen:

Now all of this technical disruption of the “economy as usual” will not be without its downside. A new social order will get created and a new class system will emerge . People who have the skills to handle these innovations and opportunities will thrive as new elites and others who either get blindsided or are handicapped in other ways will fall by the way side. My sense is that a huge swathe of people (much bigger percentage than what they are today) will belong to category of those who are not equipped to be productive in the emerging world. This increased societal polarization of have and have nots, based on their skill sets, will create systemic tension impacting welfare policies, politics, trade and economy.  So the systems level prognosis of machine intelligence based future economy is not very sanguine.

Thus once again at cost of repetition let me say that unless we do not intervene now, to prevent our schools from providing legacy based and information driven education, which incidentally is no longer relevant and migrate them to a C3S skills based pedagogy, we are setting up our kids to be irrelevant to the intelligent machine driven, economic world of tomorrow.

Our future, it seems has found us. Question is, are we ready to claim it.

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