Last Thursday was a big day for the team at the Centre for the Future of Work. We gathered in New York City to launch our inaugural event 21 Jobs of the Future, and I have to say, it was gratifying to hear from our audience how important the ideas and concepts are. We have a positive eye on the future: Some may well accuse us of being “Pollyanna” in our view of the world, but we’re all realists at the CFOW, and you really can’t blame us for taking an optimist view about the future of work. We see our role as distillers, providing a tonic for our clients and prospects in these confusing and exciting times. And we think we have a good story to tell.
“So why run an event now?” you might ask. The reason is we think we have some good answers on how people will work in the future and more importantly, we want more people to hear them. The backdrop is we are living through a step change in how work gets done. Some call it the 2nd Machine Age and others talk up the 4th Industrial Revolution, but it’s the blend between the physical, digital and biological worlds that’s changing work and, well, everything. And yes it’s scary: things always are when there is a period of rapid, dizzying change. We can all agree that work is changing, and some work will disappear—but it's not nearly as much as the press puts about.
We think that new types of work are beginning to emerge and we predict more new types of work is on the way. How can we be so confident? By looking into history. Previous technology waves like the introduction of steam or coal power or the coming of the railways changed the physical world and transformed our physical labors. The big difference today is that the technologies landing on us thick and fast (big data, platforms, automation, robots, artificial intelligence) are transforming our understanding of the intellectual world and slowly beginning to transform our mental labors too. Hence the middle-class stress and the soul-searching that’s now playing out: Typical questions “What do we do? What will our kids do? What skills do they need?” You could call it brave or foolhardy, but we wanted to answer some of these questions and have laid out our answers in our report 21 Jobs of the Future.
If you’ve been a keen follower of the Centre for the Future of Work you’ll know this work is another signpost on the long road ahead. Whereas our peers might well be building positions around the future of work now, we’ve been making the call on these trends for well over five years. We’ve written two books on the subject of tomorrow’s work, and we’ve coined an industry term “SMAC” (social, mobile, analytics and cloud) which is now common parlance. Our first book Code Halos was certainly left-field, but you know what? In retrospect, that book was bang on the money because it described how to rethink revenue and cost flows around the data flows now changing everything. Code Halos was, in fact, the name we proffered for the digital twin concept and the wave of business model innovation that’s now pumping through our economies. We followed that with a new book earlier this year called What to do When Machines do Everything, and it certainly hit the mark: When the FT writes about the budding effect, you have to give kudos to the authors. The stuff we’ve been writing about is firmly lodged in the media brain and beginning to lodge itself into the corporate brain too. Our current groove on 21 jobs is clearly onto something when industry watchers, Forbes and the Washington Post pick up the concept and the White House tweets and writes about your work...
The interest into how people will work is the reason for putting this event together. We think a lot is going on to inspire hope. For many people, the future of work looks rather black, full of temporary jobs (a “gig” economy), zero hours contracts and a ruling elite safely ensconced away and cashing in on a dystopian future. Although plausible, this vision of the future is not one we would share. Our vision is quite different (and forgive us for being optimists). We base our vision on a different reading of the trends and the facts; a different interpretation of how change occurs and how we as people evolve. There is some nervousness about the future of work, but one thing is for certain: Never, ever short people. People will always want to explore and make what’s next. It might be a designing and developing a virtual-reality wellness machine or building squads of cyber city analysts that will reconfigure our world around the demands of driverless cars. We think what we’ve landed on in the 21 Jobs of the Future will provide the cornerstones of the future of work.
PS. We imagined hundreds of jobs that could come within the macroeconomic, political, demographic, societal, populist, migratory and automated waves now sweeping through our lives. It was quite a challenge to free up the creativity (without any survey data to fall back on) and figure out which jobs would be long-term, viable and critically, would scale. Niches like the tattoo removal artist didn’t make the cut (have you seen how many tattoos the hipster movement has spawned? At least with a beard you can shave it off!). We think that these 21 jobs will become prominent, creating mass employment. They will provide work for many folks in towns and cities, shops and factories around the world. Go on, call us Pollyanna but we think we are onto something. And we dare you to inspire as well.