As Charles Darwin once said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” And that’s exactly how human beings have been able to survive and thrive for so many centuries. We are master adapters: We adapt when we move to a new place; when we are in a new job or in no job at all; when there are natural calamities; when climate conditions change; when we are surrounded by unpredictable political, social, and living conditions; and the list goes on. Up to this point, humans have been highly capable of surviving in a multitude of environments and situations, and as the new machine age unfolds, we must prepare ourselves to adapt again.
Hardly a week goes by without distressing news about automated machines displacing humans from the workforce. In the midst of it all, market experts are busy making predictions on the number of job losses that will occur due to automation, while simultaneously despairing over the possibility of a dystopian future. Fear of automation is nothing new, and I’m not worried about a robot Armageddon, especially when I think back about the history of work. For example, during the industrial revolution, luddites famously destroyed machines in an attempt to protect human work. Despite their efforts, automation happened and people lost jobs, but new jobs were also created and eventually things got better. So, why should the current machine revolution be any different? Regardless of the pace of automation, many individuals will need to adapt to changing work tasks or switch to new occupations entirely. As has happened in the past when new technology is implemented, many new jobs are created to support it. This will happen again. In fact, last year, we proposed 21 jobs that will emerge in the next 10 years and become central to the future of work. This year, we present 21 more. Each job we envision stems from our foundational belief that human imagination and ingenuity will be the source of human work ad infinitum.
As humans, when we are forced to accept new social and work dynamics, we can adapt very quickly. We innovate new industries, create new jobs, and develop new ways of working. We do anything and everything we can to survive and thrive when things are against us. I fervently believe humans can and will adapt to the future of work; however, I am very much concerned about the adaptability of businesses and higher education institutions and how this will affect their ability to skill and reskill the future workforce. In the face of the unknown future, businesses and higher education institutions will need to engage in more flexible partnerships, quicker responses, different modes of delivery, and new combined-skill programs to efficiently provide workers with the necessary tools, training, and work environments to successfully transition into the new machine age.
Thankfully, some companies have already started this process. For instance, at German auto parts maker, Bosch, welders, joiners, and mechanics have been trained in basic coding skills so they can use robots to assist them in their work. My upcoming report, The Future of Learning, will delve deeper into the types of changes businesses and educators need to make to prepare the current and future workforce for new types of work driven by emerging digital technologies. Stay tuned!
Ultimately, there is no tool more powerful for survival than our ability to adapt. And by combining our adaptability with the revamped education and training models, I have no doubts that humans will quickly learn to thrive in a world where machines can do almost everything.