Image: Flazingo Photos
Image: Flazingo Photos

The labour market is set to change, so far so obvious. But how will it change?  What will people be doing in ten years’ time? What skills will you need?

Some say technology will destroy jobs and create mass unemployment. Others say it will create more jobs than it destroys.  The lesson of history is ambiguous. Those who have a more optimistic take often cite the case of the ATM and jobs working as bank tellers.  When the ATM was launched, predictions of woe came to dominate, ‘it’s the end of bank tellers,’ said the doomsayers. A quarter of a century later, there were more bank teller job that ever before.

But then the case for technology creating jobs is obvious – how else do you explain UK unemployment sitting at a 42-year low?

On the other hand, the greatest period of innovation we have ever seen occurred over the last few decades of the 19th century, up to 1914.  The period saw the invention of dynamite, the telephone, photographic film, the first electricity-generating plants, electric motors, steam turbines, the gramophone, cars, aluminium production, air-filled rubber tyres, pre-stressed concrete, airplanes, tractors, radio signals, plastics, neon lights and assembly line production.  So that was quite the innovation revolution. And when it ended, we got a world war, followed by a great depression in the United States followed by another world war.  During the 1920s in the UK, unemployment surged, and then in the 1930s in the US, unemployment reached catastrophic levels.

Innovation can create new jobs, it can destroy them.

What is clear is that individuals looking to have a prosperous next decade can’t take any risks.  Do you stay at home and hope for a benevolent outcome, or do you make sure you have the skills that are needed to be essential in the era that approaches?

According to Tony Wagner, an Expert in Residence at Harvard University’s new Innovation Lab and a Senior Research Fellow at the Learning Policy Institute, there are seven skill sets people will need in the next few decades:

  • Critical thinking and problem solving
  • Collaboration across networks and leading by influence
  • Agility and adaptability
  • Initiative and entrepreneurship
  • Effective oral and written communication
  • Assessing and analysing information
  • Curiosity and imagination

Back in 2014, Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne from Oxford University produced a reported called ‘The Future of Employment,’ how susceptible are jobs to computerisation.

They said that the type of jobs most likely to be replaced by computers and robots are those involving manual dexterity, finger dexterity, and working in cramped spaces. They say jobs that involve a high level of social intelligence are less likely to be disrupted. Occupations that are likely to be safer include those which involve developing ideas, originality, negotiation, social perceptiveness, and assisting or caring for others.

Jobs involving empathy might be safe – so that’s nursing, counselling and caring, but traditionally these jobs have been seen as poorly paid.

According to a report from Accenture, as AI becomes more important new jobs will be created linked to AI itself.

It breaks these jobs into three categories:

  • Trainers – these are people to train AI to react in appropriate ways to certain circumstances, for example, teaching the subtleties of language, such as sarcasm, or ensuring AI reacts in the appropriate way given the unpredictability of human behaviour, and trains AI to react in appropriate ways to different cultural expectations.
  • Explainers – these are people who will explain why AI behaves in a certain way to business managers.
  • Sustainers – people who will help solve problems with AI as they occur.

Skills required might include empathy in the case of people teaching AI how to react to certain situations, while other skills might require advanced degrees.

One role that Accenture predicts may evolve is an ‘ethics compliance officer’.

But then how long will even these skills be relevant?

It seems that for many younger people, they will need to retain and learn new skills many times in their lifetime.

The Economist took a look at the emerging jobs providing digital services online – it cites Mechanical Turk – 500,000 people working online, performing tasks such as transcribing audio. Or there are raters – Google employs 10,000 raters who spend time looking at YouTube videos, for example, checking them against certain standards.

Autonomous cars may do away with the need for drivers, but will need an army of people tagging data –so that cars will be able to identify objects and indeed people, and beyond that people will be required to ensure that the AI systems in autonomous cars are working effectively.

So, it seems there will be jobs – no doubt ethics compliance officers will be well paid, a rater not so well paid.  Ensuring people doing some of these jobs are paid the minimum wage may not be easy.

But to flourish in this era, you may be better off looking at the list of skills compiled by Tony Wagner, they may well determine whether you work online, tediously keying, tagging or rating data, or enjoy the opportunities that technology creates.