A couple years ago, McKinsey came out with a report that stated “50% of work activities are technically automatable by adapting currently demonstrated technologies.”
The takeaway from the report was that by the year 2030 (which doesn’t seem so far away now), almost 10% of all jobs will be entirely new. And of those that are not new, existing jobs will be augmented by automation and technology. Jobs that remain will hardly resemble their previous descriptions.
It’s going to be a transition, to say the least.
The myth, however, is that it’s only going to be jobs further down the value chain that will be affected by automation.
This is not true.
If and when Amazon drone deliveries become an everyday reality, what do you think will happen to the Ivy League graduate who is holding the position of Vice President of Marketing at FedEx, or the General Counsel at UPS?
Accounting, law, medicine, food and agriculture, transportation, even law enforcement are all legacy industries with a seemingly endless supply of automatable roles and tasks. Manned stations are being replaced by self-service machines. Manual order processing and verification is being replaced by software. Personal assistants are being replaced by digital calendars with artificial intelligence. The list goes on and on.
There is no postponing the future here. That would be the equivalent of saying, “All right, we’ve invented the light bulb. But let’s not launch it. Because if we do, all the people working in candle-making factories will be out of a job.”
The future is inevitable—which means all we can do is prepare for it.
1. Become self-employed.
In the 1500s and 1600s, all the way into the 1800s before the Industrial Revolution, chances are, you were self-employed.
If you needed a job, you went down to the town square, learned a trade by apprenticing yourself to someone more experienced, and then sold that skill to your part of the town or city. You became a carpenter by learning how to make furniture. You became a cobbler by learning how to make shoes. What you didn’t do was write a resume and apply for a position at IKEA, Wayfair, or Nike—because corporations like that did not exist.
In a world of exponentially increasing automation, the best path forward for each individual’s own social mobility may very well be self-employment. This way, you are not fighting for a fair wage in the short term within a large corporation that is working hard to automate your job away. Instead, you are building the skill of building skills on your own, allowing you to keep up with the pace of innovation.
Waiting for the world to train you isn’t likely to be a viable strategy.
2. Invest in skills that benefit from industries with strong tailwinds.
Part of remaining professionally relevant means taking accountability over the direction of your life.
Said differently: invest in skills that get more valuable over time.
At this point, it’s safe to say that industries like computer science, engineering, corporate communications, data science, creative writing, and any job that deals with human emotions like counseling, physical therapy, massage therapy, and so on, will remain relevant over the coming decades. One way of interpreting the rise of automation is through a lens of fear: “My job is going to get destroyed.”
But the other way of interpreting the rise of automation is through a lens of opportunity and social mobility: “If I can learn these new skills, my job is going to pay me more and give me more freedom.”
By looking at which way the wind is blowing, you can reasonably assume whether or not you are currently investing in skills that are either appreciating or depreciating in value.
So if you are currently building a skill that is depreciating in value, then it’s worth considering how you can build a new skill that will benefit from these changes happening in the world.
3. Take this problem seriously and do not wait for someone else to be your solution.
The future is not going to wait for any one of us.
Not you. Not me.
That means there needs to be some level of intrinsic motivation in order to remain professionally relevant and acquire new skills in the coming decades. Those who adopt a problem-solving mindset and take this responsibility onto themselves will succeed. Those who adopt a victim mindset and defer responsibility will be left behind.
If someone does want to level themselves up and gain new skills, the tools are available. There are resources. There are places you can go to learn things. There are free communities online. And if someone doesn’t want to level themselves up (if they are a candle maker and don’t want to learn how to make light bulbs), they are going to protest. They are going to storm government buildings. They are going to vent on social media—and in the end, they are going to be without a job.
The mindset aspect of innovation is arguably the most important part. Either you see progress as a good thing and are excited and motivated to keep up, or you see it as a threatening thing and spend the majority of your energy fighting it.
If history is any indicator, then the future is impartial.