What should my daughter do when she grows up? The short answer, of course, is whatever she likes. It’s her life to live and despite the fact she’s not even two years old yet, she’s already showing such a strong will that I suspect she’ll do the opposite of whatever I suggest.
Nonetheless, I can’t help but wonder what the class of 2017 might be doing in 20 years. According to studies and expert opinions, the job market is about to change. A lot.
I’m sure you’ve seen estimates that 47 per cent of jobs in the US are susceptible to computerisation (think AI, self-driving cars and robotics), and then there’s the map that shows how soon-to-be-redundant roles like truck driver are among the most common jobs in America.
‘But I’m not a truck driver!’ I hear you say. Maybe you work in marketing and think you’re too important to be made obsolete by software. Time to think again. Every type of employment will be changed by this automated revolution. What’s more, machines can do your job faster and more reliably, without stopping for coffee breaks or demanding sleep, salary or pension plans.
With that in mind, what skills should we be developing in ourselves and our children to ensure we meet the workplace demands of the future?
It seems obvious that routine and repetitive tasks are the easiest to automate. This means flexibility and adaptability are key skills to develop – embracing new ideas, but also being more collaborative than a computer can be. Software and machinery tends to excel at specific tasks, but isn’t so good at switching between specialised physical and cognitive activities.
Exceptional social skills that result in meaningful personal interactions are likely to remain key in tomorrow’s workplace
It’s a given that tech and software skills will grow, but maybe roles will become more managerial, handling different AIs as much as writing new code. And what about the arts? Creativity is often lauded as the most human of skills and we get quite twitchy about computers playing at it. That said, machine learning has already created a Dutch master and is producing increasingly compelling music. However, by definition creativity involves not only novelty, but also value – and it is here where computers will fall short for the foreseeable future.
Chatbots are frequently described as the future of customer service and are likely to replace call centre operators eventually. However, because we see the world through human eyes and feel it with human hands, robots and software are unlikely to be able to provide genuine empathy or deal with the nuance of human needs and emotions. Exceptional social skills that result in meaningful personal interactions are therefore likely to remain key in tomorrow’s workplace.
Perhaps the unifying themes here are having empathy and feeling, demonstrating genuine creativity and being adaptable in a way that a machine cannot. We already have a cultural obsession with authenticity, illustrated by the value we place on craft and ‘real-world experiences’. It feels like an attempt to find something of substance to cling to in a world full of superficiality. Will this be even more important when most things are made by computers and robotics?
At the heart of these authentic products and experiences is always a story, and I wonder if this is a key area for the future. Machines can’t go trekking in the wilderness, discover a rare fruit and sell it at home as a new cocktail with an interesting back-story. So perhaps it’s not just the creative collaborators who will thrive in the future, it’s also the storytellers.
In 20 years my daughter’s current Duplo tower building obsession may have led her to a career in architecture, where her role will involve managing various AIs that command a robotic army of welding and cement bots. Her main skills will be in the creative direction of the build, negotiation with stakeholders and selling a tangible experience to potential customers. Then again she might be trekking in Nepal. Whatever the case, we need to be equipping the next generation with the right skills and readying ourselves for what could be the biggest change in modern history.