Most routine, standardized work will be automated, as we enter The Second Machine Age. Any process that can be analyzed and mapped is the raw material for a machine, whether it be a computer or a robot. Cashiers, bank tellers, managers, and lawyers are some of the vocations that have been automated. In the near future, taxi drivers, analysts, and researchers will join them.
One of the main assumptions about a job is that it can be analyzed and mapped to a set of core competencies. This makes jobs ripe for automation, which is how many workers are treated: as replaceable human resources. When one worker leaves, another one can always be found. If this assumption was not common management wisdom, then we would not have the constant lay-offs we see in all sectors of our capitalist economies. If several people can do the same job, it is likely that much of that job will soon get automated.
The ramifications of a post-job economy will be significant. Individuals will have to take control of their learning and work in order to be unique and creative. Our economic value will be in doing what machines cannot do. What were once considered soft skills – empathy, creativity, emotion – will become core skills. A machine can get me what I want, but what if I don’t know what I want, or I want to be surprised? That will take a human.
Education that trains for skills will become useless, as the pace of automation increases. A one-size-fits-all curriculum will only ensure that entire cohorts of graduates get replaced by machines. An educational offering that promotes creativity and experimentation will become valuable and in demand.
Many businesses already use workers in jobs like replaceable parts of a machine and are outsourcing work to the lowest cost of labour. This is only a temporary measure, as even that work will get replaced by cheaper, tireless machines. These businesses will likely be disrupted by other businesses that have embedded automation from the onset. In the search for efficiency, machines are the best bet.
But there is an infinite amount of creative work that can be done by humans. It will take new models to ensure a positive future for human workers. We need to be creative in our education systems, as well as our work structures. Institutional policies and best practices can stifle creativity. Diversity is the foundation for creativity. We have to create a variety of education models. We have to enable a variety of business systems and structures. The second machine age should be the impetus for an age of experimentation. We have to try out new ways of working and learning. There are no best practices for creativity, only unique practices, of which we need many. Knowledge workers have to become learning workers and stop looking for the next best practice and create their own emergent practices.