In part I and part II of this blog series, I discussed the mis-matched disciplines and the job loss caused by AI and robots. The trend is very clear that history is repeating itself. Just like the past industrial revolutions, many jobs will disappear but even more will be created. However, one thing is different this time: the speed of change is lighting fast compared to the past revolutions. Individuals should pay close attention and be prepared. Otherwise, they may be replaced.
I thought about my first website recently. It was developed with a word processor (I think it was Notepad), coded line by line myself back in 1995. Think about how much it has changed in 20 years. 6 months ago, I used Wix and Weebly to create my company’s site. It only took me about an hour with each service. It would have taken me days to create something similar back in ’95. Pretty amazing.
But it also means some 30 to 40 hours of work has been reduced to one hour. Back in ‘95, the key skill as a Webmaster (do we still use this term?) was coding in HTML. Today, coding skills are not required to create a functioning website. Instead, the artistry skills, marketing skills, or even e-commerce skills have become more important depending on what type of website you are creating. Using my own story as an example, that means one web designer today is as productive as 40 of them back in ‘95. Would that mean that there are 39 coders are looking for different jobs?
Maybe. David Autor from MIT has done research on work of the future. There is a TED talk if you want to know a little more. In addition, there are other studies with similar conclusions. The human desire for more and better products and services will drive more jobs. But we as individuals must adapt to changes and learn new skills. Otherwise, we may be replaced or settle for less desirable work. Lifelong learning is no longer a desire but is becoming a must.
Robot Proof SkillsEverything that is done repeatedly has a chance to be automated. Therefore, a very significant amount of skills we learned in school can be done by AI or robots. It is fair to say that many jobs in manufacturing, finance, food production, and others will be replaced. We can go on for a long discussion about how this trend affects our society; instead, I like to focus on what we can do individually especially for the young generation.
In part I of the blog series, I talked about focusing on STEM fields when possible. These skills learned in education are the foundation of skills required for a good career, but they are not enough. For example, the Air Force recently realized the best drone pilots are those who have good gaming skills. No one would have forecasted that the ability to master joysticks would become an essential skill for certain jobs. It is also impossible to forecast what will be the hottest jobs 20 years from now. However, despite this trend also tells us there are two soft skills are getting more critical than ever. They are problem solving (or critical thinking) and communication.
Problem solving is one skill that will not be replaced by AI any time soon, or ever. It is true that AI can assist problem solving in a very significant way, but the critical tasks of framing the problem and evaluating the results still are unique in each case. The lack of repeating behaviors combined with human desire (and maybe moral judgement) are significant reasons that AI and robots would only play assisting roles. In fact, the trend of needing problem solvers is increasing in many domains. AI and robots are eliminating simple, repeated tasks, and this trend is driving up project and problem complexity. This trend increases the need for teamwork, and therefore communication skills are also becoming increasingly important.
Based on my conversations with many people, I am very confident that most leaders and managers in business agree problem solving and communication skills have become the most critical skills needed in their workforce. However, most of our colleges are still behind on integrating these skills into their curriculum. In addition, the application of these skills shifts with culture and technology changes. Lifelong learning focused on problem solving and communication skills is the smartest investment that you can have in yourself.