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Eleven Notes on the Future of Work

The National Convergence Technology Center (CTC) was recently invited to attend a special webinar hosted by Florida State College at Jacksonville, one of the CTC’s grant partners. The presentation – delivered by consultant and author Todd McLees and entitled “The Future of Work” – looked at the current state and future trends of the technician workforce. Below are some highlights of that webinar.

  • A recent McKinsey study reported that because of the COVID pandemic, the U.S. workforce experienced five years of growth in just five months. This growth was not due to new innovation, however, but rather the accelerated adoption and implementation of existing technology. What would have happened anyway, in other words, just happened faster.
  • E-commerce typically experiences 1% growth per year in terms of its share of the retail market. At the start of the pandemic, however, e-commerce’s retail share jumped 10% in just eight weeks. Now instead of projections that suggested e-commerce would own 25% of retail by 2030, experts believe e-commerce will command 37% of retail sales by 2030. Pandemic-driven new behaviors will stick.
  • To illustrate how fast technology advances, consider the story of President Benjamin Harrison. In 1892, the White House was fitted with electricity, but Harrison and his wife were too afraid of electrocution to touch the light switches. The technology was too new and mysterious. That was just 130 years ago. Some experts believe we are only 130 years away from widespread convergence and integration of man and machine. What will that future generation think of our technological current trepidations of AI?
  • As our life expectancy lengthens, we are exposed to more and more innovation. Whereas people living in the 1800s – who only lived to be 50 – likely never met their grandparents or grandchildren and witnessed maybe a single technology paradigm (like the introduction of steam engines or local electrification), today multiple generations co-exist and see first-hand multiple massive shifts. Humans are not wired to adapt at this rate. It is not easy.
  • Another way to look at the changing landscape is to consider how companies build value. In the 1920s, companies like US Steel and Standard Oil built value by extracting natural resources. In the 1970s, IBM and General Motors created value through mass production. Now the value – from companies like Apple and Facebook – comes from intangible digital assets.
  • The focus of labor continues to shift and evolve as well, moving from a reliance on physical labor to more standardized “generalist” abilities. But while workers may think we are still existing in a landscape that values “hyper-specialists” with deep expertise, the workforce in fact has already transitioned into a new level that needs “neo-generalists.” In demand now are workers with adaptability and expertise across multiple domains.
  • The “reskilling fallacy” suggests workers today need only a single period of reskilling to stay competitive and relevant in the workforce. The truth, however, is that workers should expect multiple periods of reskilling. Predictions suggest that Generation Z entering the workforce today will have 17 jobs across five industries.
  • A new technical skill learned in 1990 might be good for 25 years; a new skill learned in 2020 may be good for three years at most. Continuous learning is becoming more and more essential.
  • Schools should reimagine their purpose. Rather than simply impart knowledge, schools must help grow, develop skills, and turn those skills into multiple capabilities.
  • Accenture recently conducted a study across multiple industries and occupations to categorize job tasks as uniquely human tasks, as augmentable tasks, or as automatable tasks. Accenture found that only 50% of tasks are uniquely human tasks. The rest can be done – or supported by – machines. By 2030, in fact, 800 million workers likely will be displaced. Half of those will need to change occupations entirely. Remember again that none of this is driven by new technology. Nothing new needs to be invented for these changes to occur.
  • The World Economic Forum identified these five job roles are growing in demand by 2025: data analysts and scientists, AI and machine learning specialists, big data specialists, digital marketing and strategy specialists, and process automation specialists. By contrast, WEF identified data entry clerks, administrative assistants, accounting and payroll clerks, accountants, and factory workers as job roles decreasing in demand by 2025.

To view “The Future of Work” video in its entirety, click here.

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