A wise old sage once told me that being parent is like being an archer complete with bow and arrow—your kids are your arrows and your job as a parent is to take aim, fire, and with fingers crossed hope they hit their mark. I liked that analogy because one of my kids is about to select her options for her exams at 16 and thoughts all round are turning to what she wants to do. Being part of Cognizant’s Center for the Future of Work, means for once she might actually listen to what I have to say!
Last week’s FT was awash with stories about robots and the great hallowing out of the professional class but don’t rush out to sound the death knell of the job or career just yet. Survey data from my latest report People—not just Machines—Powers Digital Innovation shows that prospects for the “job” are actually rather good. According to the survey, 40% of respondents expected staff numbers to increase over the next three years while 40% revealed that they would stay more or less constant. Don’t underestimate the power of culture and vested interests to keep a wave of automation at bay because the truth is, anyone who works in the field of robotics knows the limitations of what they are working with: Robot companies want to keep humans i.e. us in the loop because it will make their machines more socially acceptable and less threatening. From what I can gather, most folks operating in what we can now call the robot industries say people will have an important role to playing directing the machine for decades to come.
My take is that people will always work much in the same way people eat three times a day and pay taxes—it’s a fact of life. Some people will still work for one company all their lives and build careers, but others will move around much more than my generation is used to. The best advice would be to think about how our kids will blend work assignments and their gigs together into a sequence of roles and weave a wider career narrative. As parents, I think we have to radically update the careers advice we give our children. Good levels of education absolutely count but it has to be more about how you learn rather than the knowledge itself. If a career is derailed for whatever reason, and people need to reskill themselves, then it will be easier if you have the habit of learning. Moreover, perseverance, agility, social intelligence, resilience and great communication skills will really, really help. Maybe there is a role for the scouts in this digital age after all despite what my kids say...
My report goes on to predict some of the new types of jobs and roles emerging. For example, our populations are ageing, living longer, and an older population will need different health care requirements—could we see aging specialists, well-being consultants, and life-style motivators increasingly emerge into the job market? New focus areas for work could be much more people centric like care but also entertainment, sport and other personal services. In every industry, the better the technology becomes, people will need to focus on the skills that make them people—leadership, motivation, compassion, because you won’t get that from a computer.
When you meet young people I am always impressed by their energy and the self-determination. And many don’t actually want to work for “the man”; they want to work for themselves and here I give a nod to the astonishing rise of co-working space WeWork in my report (if you have not seen a WeWork in your city it might not be too long coming; their growth is phenomenal). Rather than being worried about the future, which is an easy trap to fall into, the world that my kids are coming into is full of promise and opportunity and, yes, uncertainty. But the ability to travel and experience different countries and cultures is way easier; the mindset on how and why we live seems to be shifting as the desire to have experiences rather than owning stuff grows (evidenced by an IKEA bigwig outlining new business models and the concept of peak stuff); Ambitions focus on creating balanced approaches to life as my generation raises its eyes as we hear “work life balance” but I say good on them.
My generation is the one that needs to begin building the foundations for a fair society in the future. Could we perhaps tax robots and channel the proceeds into a basic income allowance? What about rebooting the tax system based on 1950s principles of one man (note, man) working in one job that would last him a lifetime? What about how we learn and educate children (as well as ourselves) so an education delivers meaning and purpose as well as resilience and perseverance. And even when the Bank of England floats the idea that short-termism and quarter to quarter cycling might need a refresh in an era of hyper connectivity, hyper news coverage and over communication, then you begin to wonder if a more structural fix of the system is called for. These are big challenges but it’s going to be fascinating to see how we as a whole, respond to them.