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The jobs of the future … don’t exist yet

The jobs of the future … don’t exist yet

Posted on 30th April 2019

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If you believe the World Economic Forum's 'Future of Jobs' report, almost two-thirds of those who start primary school this year will end up working in jobs that currently do not exist. That probably also means that existing jobs will change, or cease to exist.

For example, according to the Daily Telegraph’s business pages on 21stApril, AI "will eliminate low-skilled roles in a third of manufacturing businesses over the next five years.”  This is based on a report by Make UK, the industry trade-body, which noted that “althoughcompanies expect technological advances to make jobs redundant, the majority of businesses want to retain displaced staff.”  Significantly, the firms surveyed said they want to retrain workers so they (their staff) can take advantage of the “new areas created by advances of the fourth Industrial Revolution.”  That sounds a bit (a lot?) like finding them “jobs that currently do not exist.”

Similarly, in the field of the construction, the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors World Built Environment Forum, to be held in New York in mid-May, suggests that while AI may remove some jobs in construction, it will probably create a lot more. 

Supporting this, the BBC, over a year ago, prophesied that “AI will create as many jobs as it displaces.”  This was based on a report from PwC, which said that the productivity gains from AI would reduce prices while increasing incomes and spending levels, thus creating more jobs.  They helpfully produced a chart, showing the sectors most affected.  Note the use of the word “could” in the chart’s title. Note also, that, by necessity, this chart is based on existing jobs. How new jobs might change and distort the predictions made today remains to be seen.  

PwC chartThe chart shows percentage changes, not absolute changes, in numbers employed, but you don’t need to be a genius to see that the subsequent report in the Telegraph, stating that one third of manufacturing jobs will go, looks likely to be correct. Robotics are the fear factor for many workers. In manufacturing, the car industry has made use of robots on production lines for many years, but that sector is facing a wave of new changes and challenges, with the expectation in some quarters that the established giants, the Fords, VW, Nissan, etc. may find that Google and a host of Chinese companies beat them to the soon-to-be-burgeoning electric (or hydrogen fuel cell?) vehicle market.  And given the current wave of rebellion about climate change, there is a fortune awaiting the person who first develops a viable, electrically-powered airplane.

At the top of the PwC chart we find healthcare. You also don’t have to be Einstein to work out that the huge increase in healthcare jobs will almost certainly include a lot of relatively low-level carer-type jobs. At the other end of the healthcare sector, 5G, robots and algorithms may actually reduce the need for quite so many surgeons and GPs, with big data offering a range of options which a human then evaluates before a robotic arm makes the first incision.  This assumes that we have the same types of jobs in healthcare as we do now.  That may seem reasonable, but who knows what new (types of) jobs might need be created to meet the increasing demand for healthcare?

Similarly, our friends in construction recruitment know that they, like us in IT, are seeing many skills shortages, especially as older, more senior engineers and specialists retire.  Their problem is partly demographic, but, like IT, is not helped by the lack of pupils learning about STEM subjects at school. However, technology is making huge strides in construction, with robotic bricklayers and 3D printed houses becoming more common; a trend that will only accelerate. Fewer humans directing the actions of increasing numbers of robots/drones/computers seems the way ahead. Perhaps the future will include recruitment agencies offering the services of robots, not humans?  Construction would certainly be an interesting place to start that experiment.  And if it works there, then why not in IT?

On top of this, and, as far as I can see, not often mentioned in the articles about future job trends, is the spectre of population growth. We know that worldwide the population is expected to rise. Have a look at this link to a site which shows the increase in global population in real time, and try not to be slightly worried by the rapidity with which the numbers whir round.  On the day we wrote this, the world’s population had increased by over 25 million between 1stJan 2019 and 25thApril 2019.  By the time you read this, it will probably be over 26 million.

In other words, not only do we have to cope with all the structural change, technological unemployment and political decisions to protect (or not) our respective countries’ industry and jobs, we also need to realise that we’re trying to do this against a background where more people will need fed, will want to have some sort of purpose to their adult lives (currently filled by work) and will want to be looked after in their (increasing) old age.

The only hope that we can even have a chance of getting this right lies in more and better use of technology.  Personally, we would not trust governments to get this right, although they certainly have a role to play in regulating the world to try to keep competition fair and open (free trade anyone?) – while striving mightily not to overcook the planet.  But overall, we can think of this in two ways: either that it’s all about loss and how to mitigate it, or it’s about change and opportunity.  The entire focus of the world’s leaders in business and politics needs to be on the latter. New types of jobs will present immense challenges but also fantastic opportunities.  The world of work has evolved at an increasing rate since the early industrialisation of the 18thcentury, accelerating rapidly ever since. To cope with these changes, employers (and recruitment companies like Be-IT) need to be thinking even further ahead. Invention, innovation and creativity will be what gives us a fighting chance of getting this right, and at the centre of all this will be the beating heart of technology.  New industries, skills and jobs will develop and recruiters will need to adapt to the deal with them. Moreover, it would be complacent to assume that we alone are immune from change and the advance of new ways of recruitment, driven by technology and relying less on human beings. How the recruitment industry faces these challenges will determine its success, or otherwise, in the years ahead.  

Gareth Biggerstaff, CEO, and Nikola Kelly, MD, Be-IT


Posted in Opinion, Recruitment News

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