The last few years have seen no shortage of rather dire warnings about the future of work in the face of an army of robots that are about to automate the vast majority of the jobs we know today.
Of course, the situation needn’t be quite so dire as most of these reports look at jobs as something of a fixed pie and seldom allow for the many new jobs that will inevitably be created as new industries emerge.
The latest report of this ilk comes from StartupAUS, which is an advocacy group for Australian startups. The report follows the script with these things, suggesting that some 40% of all jobs in Australia will be obsolete by 2030.
The report is based upon a model created by CEDA last year and follows the line of thinking that whilst change has been a constant in life, the change we’re experiencing today is so swift that we will not have sufficient time to respond.
Of course, the very nature of exponential change sees a hockey stick shaped rate of change, but thus far, there don’t appear to have been any loss of jobs due to automation. Indeed, the CEDA report suggests that in the five years to 2014, some 944,500 jobs were created compared to just 146,800 that were lost.
Of course, that isn’t to say that things are staying the same, and indeed the jobs market is changing perhaps like never before, both in the kind of jobs being created and the very nature of work itself. Across the world, for instance, there is a rapid increase in independent work, suggesting the rapid demise of a job for life.
Designed for Flexibility
Of course, even if the number of jobs remains high, rapid change in the type of skills required can still cause significant disruption. Indeed, a major factor in the rise of populist politics around the world is in direct response to a large number of people suffering in the labor market. Automation threatens to do the same but on steroids.
I’ve written previously about how we can better prepare for jobs that don’t exist yet, and there are signs that educational institutions are taking this seriously.
“Technology is changing the world, and increasingly the types of jobs that most of our children will be doing don’t yet exist. It’s highly likely though, that being a numerate and creative problem-solver will increasingly be in great demand. That is what engineers do,” Peter Finegold, Head of Education and Skills at IMechE said to me recently.
This focus on softer, transferable skills was something that EdTech start-up Minerva built into their business model. Students spend their first year picking up four core competencies, including creativity and critical thinking, before then selecting a major in the second year and applying their learning in industry in the third year.
“Sixty-five percent of high school students end up in jobs that haven’t been invented yet. At Minerva, we aim to educate students not for a specific job, but we aim to equip them with the tools and skills they can apply to any job. Most universities still very much rely on content dissemination to teach. At Minerva all our teaching is based on active learning — teaching students how to think, not what to think — and focuses on developing four core competencies — critical thinking, creative thinking, effective communication and effective interaction — which students constantly apply throughout their studies, and will be able to apply to whichever career they choose,” Marielle van der Meer,Managing Director, Europe and the Middle East at Minerva, told me recently.
As with most change however, perhaps the hardest part will be in convincing people of the need to change. I wrote recently about a study exploring the attitudes of New Zealanders to automation, and most didn’t seem to think it would affect them. It’s perhaps fair to say therefore, that they aren’t doing much to prepare for their job becoming obsolete.
So, maybe better awareness raising of the risks involved might be a handy first step to make.