Millions of children around the country are returning to school; these new beginnings inevitably cause us to think about their future. As we see them off, we realize that they are a little older, a little wiser and full of enormous potential. As parents, guardians and educators, we also spend a lot of time thinking about how we best prepare our children for success. Not only do we think about academics but we also want their social and emotional needs met as well. Ultimately, we know that their education gives them a firm foundation and that that their chosen profession will be a major component of their happiness once they get older.
As the great technologist, Alan Kay remarked “The best way to predict the future is to invent it”. We often think about invention from the standpoint of tools and systems that will make life easier. But, as recent articles have suggested, we also need to think about the role of humans within that futuristic infrastructure. By projecting forward and then backward solving, we can get a better understanding of some things that we might think about as we invent the future employee.
Earlier this week, a report came out entitled, “Technology is killing off corporate America
”. Within the article, we learn that the average life span of companies on the S&P500 is under 20 years. This is down from almost 60 years in the 1950’s. This is somewhat staggering to think about. Assuming that we expect our kids to work for ~40 years (22-65 years old), the company that they start with is not necessarily the one they will end with. The #1 factor that is the cause of this disruption of corporations is automation. As more and more industries see the impact of automation, there will be companies that are able to better compete while some will have to join forces in order to remain competitive. And on the ultimate continuum, there will be many companies who find themselves in a disadvantaged position and will be forced to shutter completely.
In addition to the generic disruption offered by automation, there are some leading technologists like Elon Musk who believe that artificial intelligence is a fundamental threat to humanity
. Musk believes we must take steps now to protect ourselves going forward.
Within both of these data points and perspectives, it becomes clear that technology will play an increasingly important role in the world around us; either as an engine of rapid disruption or one that puts humanity’s role within the future at risk. While the answer is most certainly not binary, it is important to recognize the potential of technology.
Predicting the Jobs of Tomorrow
Alan Kay, the technologist, suggested that we think 30 years out about what the future might hold. From the current work that is being done by both technology companies (Google, Uber) & automakers (Ford, GM), it seems highly likely that transportation will be fully automated by year 2047. By that point, it will most likely be illegal to drive because of the enormous safety risks.
In addition, it would seem that the recent moves made by an initial online only retailer like Amazon that had opened brick and mortar book stores and recently acquired Whole Foods that there will continue to be a clear need for physical locations that will be patronized for shopping and entertainment. Although, that is counter-balanced by the recent and severe disruptions to traditional retail based shopping experiences which some are calling the retail apocalypse
. However, it is not unreasonable to think that retailing will have rapidly evolved by the year 2047 to more of an omni-channel experience.
Another area we can look to for some insight into future jobs is the Bureau of Labor Statistics
. In their projections through 2024, they project goods production (mining, construction and manufacturing) to remain flat while services especially healthcare to increase. This makes sense as we are witnessing continued advances in modern medicine that are helping us live longer and those who are able to maintain our health will be in great demand.
So, while it is hard to know specifically what jobs will be like in the future. It is not hard to foresee that opportunities in traditional transportation (bus driver, taxi driver) will be non-existent and that those in healthcare will have exploded.
One of the most brilliant innovations from the technology world is inventing the concept of software as a service. Instead of each company maintaining their own technology infrastructure, most companies just lease space from Amazon’s massive web services business. Similar to how real estate has been a fantastic tool for generating wealth, the technology parallel will be a great driver of wealth creation in the future. The economics of the ‘as a service business model’ are beneficial to both the owner as well as the customer. While, we would also like to own massive commercial and residential towers in major cities; it is emerging that Google, Facebook, and Amazon have in many ways already secured the prime real estate. That doesn’t mean there are not opportunities for smaller investors to invest in multi-unit or single family software as a service business. For example, digital cryptocurrency and the blockchain will need solutions developed for industries and companies of all sizes.
In addition, we would hypothesize that there will be a similar focus going forward on problem solving as a service for the employee of the future. Instead of developing a specific skill set that could be disrupted several times during the life of the company, those employees who now how to both broadly lay out a framework for problem solving and to get specific about the task at hand will be highly valued. One might imagine that as home automation becomes main stream that the digital equivalent of a technology plumber will be in massive demand to help untangle the blockages within the wireless connectivity or the electrical connectivity. It will also make a lot of sense to develop their broader problem solving skills within the context of technology given the previous emerging trends that we’ve discussed.
One of the inherent qualities of computer science and engineering is that you learn both the mechanics of the discipline in parallel with the creation of tailored solutions. Within the rapidly evolving world of technology, that mechanism becomes the learning and development foundation that prepares one for the increasing complexity and disruption that is certain to be prevalent over the next several decades.