Robot invasions were once the stuff of sci-fi books and horror movies, but with recent technological advancements and the rise of artificial intelligence, those robot fantasies are beginning to seem uncannily real. Artificial intelligence, simply referred to as AI, has seen tremendous progress in recent years. Machine Learning means that programs can pick up on patterns and “learn” from them—essentially predicting our behavior.
Chatbots handle the front lines of customer questions, software can scan contracts for key information, and online retailers deliver personalized recommendations picked by an algorithm. Whether we like it or not, technology is here to stay, and it’s quickly infiltrating the workplace.
Now hiring robots!
One topic of interest when it comes to AI is whether it will eliminate enough jobs to raise the unemployment rate. On one hand, being able to order from a machine at McDonald’s means there can be fewer cashiers—maybe even none at all. Technology has advanced to the point where it can replace many low-skill positions, which means many of these jobs will be phased out.
On the other hand, however, the rise in technology is also creating millions of jobs – 2.3 million jobs by 2020 to be precise (Gartner). Not only are companies in need of people to research, design, and develop technologies, they also need technicians to implement and maintain the products.
The question is then whether technology will eliminate more jobs than it creates. The answer, according to Gartner is no. Gartner predicts that AI will create half a million jobs more than it eliminates.
Wanted: Sales Associate to Work with Android Cashier
Technology’s greatest change won’t be in the number of jobs, but in the kind of jobs.
Experts predict that manufacturing will see the biggest loss of jobs in the coming years. Areas where the manufacturing industry is strong will see a significant drop in jobs. According to World Bank, automation currently threatens 69% of the job market in India and 77% in China (Entrepreneur). Other low-skill jobs are also in danger, with Goldman Sachs predicting that self-driving vehicles will cause 25,000 truckers to lose their jobs each month (CNBC).
Meanwhile, those 2.3 million jobs that will be added to the market will more likely be in middle- or high-skill positions. OECD identifies some key components that make jobs difficult to automate:
- Social Intelligence – caring for others and recognizing cultural sensitivities
- Cognitive Intelligence – creativity and complex reasoning
- Perception and Manipulation – the ability to carry out physical tasks in an unstructured work environment
For example, Gartner predicts that check-out cashiers will get the robot treatment (in fact many stores already feature self-check-out), while sales associates positions will stick around. Sales associates interact more with customers, giving recommendations and suggesting new products. This makes them harder to replace with machines. When you come in with an unusual request, a human sales associate is more likely to understand what you need.
Low-skill jobs will be automated, being slowly replaced with more middle- and high-skill positions. In the future, we will be working side-by-side with machines, relying on AI to complete the more monotonous tasks (Forbes).
Becoming the worker of the future
As lower-level jobs are phased out of the market, expectations for workers will also shift. More positions will be opening in the tech sector, including big data, Internet of Things (IoT), cloud computing, and cybersecurity (Entrepreneur). This means that job seekers will need to acquire a different skill set to thrive in these growing fields.
The workforce of the future will be more skilled than the workforce of the past. They will be better educated and more tech-savvy, with much more precise specializations. Millennials and Generation Z, with their intuitive understanding of technology, already make up a large part of the workforce. Millennials alone currently account for more than a third (Pew).
OECD highlights the uneven distribution of future jobs, with the scales severely tipped in the favor of high-skill jobs. They stress the importance of on-the-job training and adult learning, since these are key in preparing for the future. In fact, some companies are already gearing up for major retraining efforts.
AT&T made the news earlier this year for their grand-scale retraining initiative. About a decade ago, executives realized that only half of the company’s employees had the skills to work with emerging technologies. While hiring new employees seems like the obvious answer, the high cost of turnover makes it an expensive solution. Instead, AT&T decided to train current employees, arming them with necessary skills and tools (CNBC). This means that not only can they have a workforce with precisely the required skills, but that about 125,000 employees who were deemed under-skilled won’t lose their jobs.
The future does look like a sci-fi novel… but we don’t know which one.
These workplace transformations aren’t new. Fifty years ago, your average office looked quite different. There was no IT department, and definitely no social media manager. Memos were posted on boards rather than emailed, and customer reviews traveled via word of mouth rather than Yelp, making it much easier to outrun a bad reputation.
Similarly, the rise of AI will transform the workplace—who knows what it will look like by 2068!
As a worker, the key is being willing to learn new skills. Not only does this make you a more attractive job candidate, but it also puts you on the front lines for positions that haven’t even been created yet.
While technology is evolving faster than ever, it is highly unlikely that robots will ever replace humans. In the foreseeable future, people will remain at the core of the workforce. However, technological advances are transforming the workplace in other ways. We will be seeing a drop in low-skill jobs, since these can easily be automated, while the number of high-skill jobs climbs.
You might not need to start preparing for the robot apocalypse (not yet, at least), but being open to learning new skills and tools means that you’ll be better prepared for the jobs of the future.