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A Glimpse At The Possible Future Of Work

by Louise W. Rice
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In the last 40-or-so years, computers, technology, and the internet have had a massively transformative impact on employment areas.

Now, in 2020, technology is playing an increasingly important role across all sectors. With the on-going explosion in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning, many are starting to worry about the next generation’s work prospects.

Industry experts suggest we are on the cusp of a fourth Industrial Revolution. There is little doubt the workplace of tomorrow will look considerably different from today – but which sectors are likely to benefit from the increased use of technology and which will contract, or even disappear?

The impact of technology on employment

A recent study suggests around 20% of current vocations could theoretically be replaced by technology with large parts of the employees’ responsibilities moved to automation. That said, it was found only 5% of all jobs could be fully replaced with tech.

Conversely, the same study suggested that approximately 60% of jobs could benefit from the automation of around one-third of their common tasks, leading to intriguing prospects for how the future workplace might look. It seems highly likely that the convergence between the real and virtual worlds will continue apace over the coming years, likely with employee tasks being augmented by AI and other automation tools.

Areas of potential growth vs. those at risk

As you might expect in a world that is forecast to become so reliant on technology, one of the safest sectors in terms of job security is predicted to be in computer and data-related roles – everything from programming to data gathering and analytics positions. For more on the current, most in-demand analyst jobs, click here.

Other areas that seem relatively secure are those where there is an express requirement for human interaction and calls of judgment (i.e., in the nursing and medical industries) and areas that require high creativity. Some of the most secure jobs are expected to be in the creative, art and design industries as well as areas that require innovative thinking (e.g., product design).

However, while it has always been presumed that artificial intelligence would lack creative thought, an entire essay was recently written by OpenAI’s powerful GPT-3 language generation software that would better most human attempts in terms of its intricacy and sophistication of debate/contemplation. As with most other computing and tech areas, it would seem unwise to underestimate the potential of AI – systems are already demonstrating a considerable talent for generating original ideas.

At the other end of the scale, it’s predicted many manual labor-type jobs could soon disappear and be replaced with machines. Just as we saw assembly line workers replaced by computers and robots last century, so we may see other blue-collar jobs disappear in the future. In particular, any job that involves repetitive, time-consuming or high-degree accuracy tasks is, in most cases, done better by AI and robots.

Other sectors at risk include some basic physical roles – like fast food preparation, waitressing and the like – and also anything that involves collating and processing data in familiar patterns, e.g., accountancy jobs and back-office document processing.

Somewhat surprisingly (though possibly logical when you think about it), lower-paid jobs are likely to remain relatively secure due to the cost ratios involved in achieving a Return on Investment (ROI). Consequently, some of our lowest-paid workers (e.g., care-workers or gardeners, etc.) may enjoy comparatively good employment security.

Reduced time spent at work – a new working week?

Researchers also suggest that up to 30% of the total working week could be moved to autonomous machines by 2030. It seems very likely that robots or AI will work together in harmony with humans, each complementing the other’s relevant skills. There is little doubt computers and tech are going to play a much more significant role in the future of work – but when that happens will depend largely on the speed of transition and a willingness on the part of companies to invest in the required hardware and software.

New jobs – possible areas of future employment

While it’s relatively easy to envisage how current jobs will change through the adoption of technology, it’s considerably harder to see where growth might occur. Indeed, many experts argue that a high percentage of future jobs haven’t been invented yet. Just as the rise in computers has fostered the growth of sectors that simply didn’t exist even just a few years ago, so it’s thought that emerging tech will do the same.

For example, before the internet, we didn’t have a web design industry and marketing consisted purely of offline activities. These days, the web sector encompasses many highly-skilled roles – everything from Search Engine Optimization (SEO) specialists to content creation managers, online marketers and web/app developers and designers. It would seem fair to assume this same job creation could happen as AI and robots become more mainstream and demand for their services increases.

As mentioned above, one area that should undoubtedly continue to grow is within computing and programming. Demand for these specialists should remain high and new skills and requirements will continue to evolve.

There are also thoughts that a growing elderly population could increase the demand for doctors and nurses. In the developed world, the average life expectancy doubled through the last century. While there is clearly going to be a limit in how long the body can keep going, it’s still expected there will be considerably more older people who will require care.

Another area that could see continued growth is within the design and development of IT infrastructure and tech deployment. As we continue to rely on the internet and other associated technologies, work opportunities should continue to grow.

Lastly, another area of probable growth is in renewables and climate management services. As the world struggles to reduce its carbon footprint and achieve net-zero emissions, people with skills in this area should continue to be in demand.

A time of change and likely upheaval

Like the last industrial revolution, the move to autonomy, AI, and machine learning will lead to upheaval time. It seems highly likely workforces worldwide will need to retrain and update their skills (or learn new ones) to keep themselves employable in a rapidly changing world.

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