We’ve become accustomed to thinking that technological advances are eliminating jobs and tasks that require low-level professional qualifications. From automated toll booths to supermarket tills, we're used to the erosion of low paid jobs.
Yet new forms of technology and automation are also making more highly qualified professionals obsolete, like financial analysts, lawyers and tax experts. In 2000, Goldman Sachs employed more than 600 traders. In 2017 only two equity traders were left because algorithms handled by computer engineers could perform the same work. The same thing is happening in all the traditional investment banks on Wall Street. At the same time, everything from self-completing online tax returns to machine learning approaches to accountancy are disrupting jobs in financial services.
So what are the “megatrends” in this evolving job market?
1. Impermanence. Most of the jobs created in advanced economies don’t offer permanent contracts, but involve self-employed or freelance consultants. This means that these people have no social “safety nets” like insurance, medical coverage, social security, or paid vacation. In the US, 94% of the new jobs created from 2005 to 2015 fell into this category, giving these workers no protection at all. This gives rise to growing worker vulnerability on one hand and a challenge to the relevance of trade unions on the other.
2. Life expectancy. The good news: it rises by about two years for every decade that goes by. In Japan, Italy and Germany, life expectancy for women is nearer 90 than 80, while men have now topped 80. But let’s think about two consequences of this. First, can we reasonably expect to enjoy a nice pension for nearly 20 years of our lives? Recently, newspapers reported that in Italy there are more than 700,000 people who have been collecting a pension since 1982. In other words, they’ve been retired for at least 35 years; in most cases longer than they were employed.
Second, we’ve always thought of our lives as divided into three parts. We go to school till we’re around 22-24, work for about 35-40 years, and then comes retirement from age 60 onwards. But we have to rethink this mindset and realize we have a life of continuous learning ahead of us. In previous articles I’ve written that to “beat” machine learning, it’s up to us to become learning machines.
3. New professions. Technology creates more jobs than it destroys, but change is painful. A recent McKinsey study reveals that 56% of new jobs are in brand-new professions. If you take a look at the World Economic Forum's career page, you’ll see the kinds of professionals we’re looking for: experts in artificial intelligence, the internet of things, specialists in cyber-security, internet governance, social media, start-ups, machine learning, robotics, 3D printing, autonomous vehicles, Blockchain and so on. Across the job market, salaries are skyrocketing for new professions and slowly shrinking for traditional ones.
4. Women. They make up 52% of the population, but they’re still underpaid and employed in roles that are below their level of skill and expertise. But I’m convinced that the future belongs to women. Why? Because they tend to possess the human characteristics that will give them the advantage in the new jobs of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Like the capacity for collaboration (instead of competition), empathy, creativity, listening and learning.
Given the changes in the job market, we have to redesign organizations as well. We can no longer build and utilize “mechanical” organizations, offspring of the First Industrial Revolution, where the worker was simply considered a replaceable “spare part”. We can’t assume that the bureaucratic models of the public sector will still work either. We have to redesign organizations, keeping in mind that people have to be empowered, not controlled or forced to live with the recurring nightmare of losing their job and giving up a life of dignity.
We can’t pay new university graduates 500 euros a month, or worse, expect them to work for free. Science and psychology provide hundreds of studies and research showing that knowledge workers are motivated by purpose, autonomy, their capacity for self-improvement, and a sense of fairness and transparency. As long as we keep dealing with people using the carrot and the stick, it just won’t work.
Have you read?
The new reality of the Fourth Industrial Revolution forces us to think and act in a new way: we can’t solve new problems by applying old methodologies or outdated mindsets. To truly adapt to the future of work, we will need to be guided by a moral compass, a radar that helps us avoid dangers and allows us to discover opportunities for everybody.