18 Dec How to save your job from the robots
The absurdist author Kurt Vonnegut’s first novel, Player Piano (1952), imagines a far-off dystopian future. Automation has rendered nearly every job obsolete, and society is divided between the elite few managers and engineers who oversee the machines on one side, and the mass of unemployed workers who live meaningless lives off a meagre government dole on the other.
According to economists and roboticists, that distant future has suddenly arrived at our doorstep. Multiple studies by WEF, Oxford, and McKinsey project that at least fifty percent of jobs that exist today, across sectors and geographies, will be automated within the next twenty years. We’ve already seen dozens of jobs nearly disappear in recent years –think cashiers, bank tellers, and travel agents. Sectors as diverse as finance, fashion, and food preparation are likely to feel the impact next. And if you think an advanced degree or white-collar desk job will keep you safe, think again: computers are already writing news articles and managing teams, and soon they’ll be ready to perform surgeries with superhuman precision.
The good news: humanity has adapted to paradigm shifts in the shape of our workforce before. Equally dire warnings about the eradication of jobs came with the Industrial Revolution, as well as the more recent Digital Revolution that ushered in computing and the worldwide web. In both cases, the workforce as a whole evolved alongside the disruptive technology; while some jobs went extinct, new kinds of work took their place.
The bad news: the rate of adoption for automation and AI is happening faster than any disruption before it. The speed at which humans are replaced with machines will likely blindside many workers who won’t have anticipated the threat, and who will find themselves ill-prepared to find another role in a newly roboticised reality.
A Leadership Vanguard task force, made up of members from DNV GL, Tata Consultancy Services, Mastercard and Xynteo, chose to take on this challenge. We asked: if it were possible for workers to anticipate the coming tidal wave affecting each of their industries—if they had an alert system so to speak, and access to newly in-demand skillsets and expertise—could they ride that wave to new opportunities? Could they steer the change within their sector, rather than get swept aside by it?
The team gathered data to begin designing a predictive algorithm: given a person’s current industry, position, and geography, to what extent does automation pose a risk to their job within the coming decade? Factors in the algorithm include the nature of the employee’s work (for instance, whether it involves routine physical work or data analysis) and forecasts about their industry as a whole (e.g. the adoption rate of new technology or increases in financial investment).
We’ve called this project rAIse, with the belief that advance insight into the impact of AI and automation on the workforce can help elevate one’s career, rather than disrupt it. When a worker uses the rAIse service to receive a risk analysis for her current job, she will also receive guidance on what actions she can take next to build career resilience. Perhaps new work pathways are opening up in her industry because of automation, but they will require new skills or certifications to unlock. Or perhaps her current expertise will remain in demand in other sectors, and she’ll need to pivot her work experience in a new direction. rAIse can then connect users to skills providers, educators and career counselors who can help them map a tailored career journey for the years ahead.
The so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution is about to transform the working world, but if we act now that transformation can be for the better, instead of the gloomy vision of mass unemployment and inequality we’ve been warned about. AI and smart data can take all of our careers in fascinating directions, so long as resources like rAIse put the steering wheel to reach that brave new world in our own hands.
For more information about rAIse, contact Cole at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Leadership Vanguard.
@ColePaulson, Analyst and Project Manager at Xynteo.
Photo: ‘Metropolis’ (1927)