how do you future-proof your job prospects?

We're entering a massive transition period during which certain jobs will disappear forever. We have to start thinking about what will replace them and how.
utopian sci-fi city

In a previous post, I agreed with the idea that a lot of human jobs will be replaced by computers and robots, and that these jobs are not coming back since there’s no no need for a human to perform them. When taking jobs away for the foreseeable future, there are serious consequences to consider. Many young and educated workers already can’t find jobs today, so shrinking the available job pool is going to keep wreaking havoc on them and future younger generations. If we simply automate position after position without creating new ones in their place, the entire labor market becomes a zero sum game and in 30 to 50 years, we would be looking at a population with a few job-holders and a whole lot of out of people who will be perpetually out of work. And when we consider that the far milder version of this scenario is already causing global protests, the future looks rather bleak for everyone involved. But it doesn’t have to be that way unless we insist on being stuck in a status-quo perpetuating cycle. We can fix this not by throwing money at the problem, not by offering a stimulus tax credit or cash incentive to hire human workers, but by focusing on our scientific and technical ambitions.

Here’s the unfortunate truth. No new social or safety net will help because the ones we adopt are usually built to help people get on their feet when they fall on hard times, or provide a pension for those who worked all of their lives. Without jobs to take people out of the social welfare system, millions will remain there and millions more will join them as their jobs are eliminated. Where will they go if there are no jobs for them? How will the retirees retire if they have no job from which to retire before they could earn all their benefits? Living on rations from the government is simply not a viable option for an extended period of time. That backs us up into a long and vicious cycle of vanishing jobs putting more people looking for these vanishing jobs into welfare systems and preventing them from furthering their education to get a new job because they can’t afford it, and even if an angel benefactor gave them the cash, the jobs they’re seeking may be gone when they graduate. So what can we use as an escape hatch? Well, since we can’t beat the march of technology, why not join it? Why not make science a viable and more lucrative career? Why not vastly expand research and education programs to keep more students and researchers working on new ideas with viable uses in the real world and beyond?

If data entry jobs are now being done by automated systems which collect data from databases and import all of it into a target software package, doing thousands of human hours of work in 20 minutes, why would any of the interns or entry level employees no longer able to hold such a position keep looking for something like it? To pay their dues? To whom? Execubot 8000? It doesn’t care how long they’ve been with the company, or how old they are, or who their parents are, or what college they attend. None of the corporate politics matter when a company is made up mostly of intercommunicating machinery. So why not let these young people go off to an ivory tower and tinker until they come up with good ideas? Why not allow generations present and future to do a pivot towards acquiring and distributing knowledge and advanced tools for a living when robots do much of the work once meant to propel one up the corporate ladder? Sounds idealistic, certainly. But the reality is that ongoing automation is changing our world and one of the biggest culprits in downsizing manufacturing jobs has been robots on the assembly line. Outsourcing was an insult to injury, a devastating knee to the groin as the victim was suffering from an uppercut. And ironically, to bring back manufacturing to developed nations in which they’ve become endangered species, more automation and more efficient robots will be needed.

We are seriously looking at a major shift in how we live our lives, an event not unlike the industrial revolution, and as we can all recall from history class, it meant drastic changes for the economy and the population. The vast majority of the United States and Europe were agricultural workers. Now, they make up roughly a percent or so of the workforce. And once upon a time, manufacturing workers were the predominant economic block. Now, they’re less than a fifth of the economy while the majority are those providing services. During the shifts experienced in the industrial revolution, there was a mass migration of jobs as we could simply move to new cities and take up new professions. But this shift is different. Moving to a new city to take a new job is useless when that job doesn’t exist and job security is a dream when something crucial to your position involves what can be automated and rolled up into a sprawling enterprise system. So we have to do what humans do best: explore and create. Instead of just talking about jobs and studying to get jobs so we can all have jobs, then go and spend the money we earn at our jobs to support others people’s jobs, we need to open our eyes to what so many today consider flights of fancy and talk about exploring, discovering, learning, and creating. We need massive investments in science, research, development, and STEM because they’re our future.

Where will all those investments go? To private and publish colleges and organizations which will work with a wide swath of companies to provide them with new ideas and advice on how to best operate, designing new business processes, new machinery, new software, and studying the world around us for insights into future technology. The workforce of the future will belong to savvy managers, entertainers, techies, and of course, an ever growing group of researchers and scientists. But only if we stop pouring our taxes down sinkholes or try to pretend that we’re not outgrowing the conventions set up during the end of the industrial revolution. Only if a sizeable group of people insist that politicians do more than just give the occasional lip service to R&D. Hold on, you might ask, what about all those who insist that science is a waste of taxpayer money and demand that schools teach religion instead of sound fact with their outsize political influence? If they really don’t want to be employed in some way, shape or form, or really believe that their current jobs will be secure for all time, they’ll be making a personal choice to stay behind the times. And they are entitled to their choices. What they are not allowed to do is drag the rest of society back with them because it tickles them just right to threaten everyone around them will hellfire and dismiss anything they don’t understand or care about as wasteful.

# tech // education / job creation / job market / jobs

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