Just as farmhands were replaced by machines 100 years ago, so too will knowledge workers be replaced by networked computers in the next few decades. Last century, those farmhands had the option of moving to the city and working in factories, but what are the alternatives for today’s knowledge workers? It is not likely to be a new job, as the job itself is being made obsolete, underlined by 54 million freelancers in the USA today, accounting for almost 1/4 of working-age adults.
As we shift to a post-job economy, creativity, empathy, and the ability to solve complex problems collaboratively are increasingly becoming skills valued in the emerging labour market. This is work that computers cannot do. We see new artists emerge through YouTube and other crowd-enabled platforms. There continues to be a need for empathy as the real sharing economy emerges, not through platform capitalists, like Über, but neighbours sharing with each other. There are many wicked problems that confront society, such as climate change, resource depletion, and fundamentalism, and these can only be solved collaboratively. People who can work with others in creative and collaborative tension will find meaningful work.
Helping the existing workforce transition from predominantly routine, standardized work to an economy focused on unique, customized work will alleviate the current and coming socio-economic tensions facing us today. The path to a prosperous future is not in creating more jobs. Educators, politicians, and business leaders have to shift their effort and focus from Labour to Talent.
The good news is that we are not just losing standardized work but we are gaining the tools and the time to do more unique, customized work of our own choosing. Networked computers enable us to learn informally and share tacit knowledge in social networks and communities of practice, leaving the boring stuff to the droids. In the digital network era, creative economies run on ideas, not assembly lines. The automation of standardized work will benefit us in the long run, if those with power see people as Talent, not Labour.
Automation is coming to a job near you. Recently, McKinsey Global Institute looked at a wide array of US jobs to see how much work could be automated using current technology, in its Automation Potential report.
- Paralegals 69% – Lawyers 23%
- Food Service Managers 32% – Chief Executives 25%
- Computer User Support Specialists 65% – Actuaries 15%
- Pharmacists 47% – Psychiatrists 7%
- Rehabilitation Counselors 31% – Health Educators 0%
- Library Technicians 59% – PreSchool Teachers 7%
- Training & Development Managers 38% – Legislators 4%
Take a look at this interactive report and see where your job, or future work, lies. Examine the rest of your organization or business. This may be an indicator of your near-term future of work.