Ways of working

Digital revolution set to create new jobs – and destroy others

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A potent digital cocktail of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and automation is transforming the job landscape.

The breakneck speed of advances in autonomous driving technology has prompted predictions that taxi drivers will become an endangered species. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 85,000 US shop workers lost their jobs in the first four months of 2017 alone. Other sectors likely to be hard hit include logistics, inventory management and packing merchandise. But some office-based professions are also at risk, including auditors, bookkeepers, lawyers and accountants.

Oxford University researchers Carl Frey and Michael Osborne famously predicted that almost half (47 per cent) of all US jobs were at risk because of computerisation, while the Bank of England said automation could result in the loss of 15 million jobs in the UK, mostly in the service sector.


Millennials optimistic

Yet for all the uncertainty, millennials are reasonably sanguine – even though they’re the ones who will be most affected by all these technological changes. In a global survey of 18 to 35-year-olds by the World Economic Forum (WEF) in 2016, almost half (46 per cent) of respondents acknowledged that workers without the right skills would struggle to find a job in the future.

However, four out of five respondents believe that technology will create more jobs than it destroys. Some jobs may be lost, but for others, artificial intelligence-driven automation will make workers more productive and increase demand for certain skills. “New jobs are likely to be directly created,” said a report from the Executive Office of the President towards the end of the Obama administration.

For example, PwC has predicted that “we will need the equivalent of air-traffic controllers to control the autonomous vehicles on the road. Same-day delivery and robotic packaging and warehousing are also resulting in more jobs for robots and for humans.”

One third of the new jobs that were created in the US over the past 25 years did not previously exist, McKinsey reports, in areas including IT development, hardware manufacturing, app creation and IT systems management.

The increasing connectivity of everything from cars to domestic appliances will lead to a huge rise in demand for workers in professions such as big data analytics and cybersecurity. The World Economic Forum predicts that “the AI revolution will almost certainly lead to the creation of new jobs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields like nanotechnology and robotics.”


Three key skills

Employment website Workopolis says that the jobs of the future will demand three key elements: STEM education (science, technology, engineering and maths), creativity and emotional intelligence.

The jobs least likely to be replaced by machines are those where humanity is a vital component. These include areas where you have to exercise judgement and build close relationships with other people – healthcare professionals such as doctors, nurses, dentists and therapists, as well as teachers, but also sales roles.

Indeed, the WEF reports that specialised sales people will be in high demand “as practically every industry will need to become skilled in commercialising and explaining their offerings to business or government clients and consumers.” This is because they’ll be explaining innovative products to their customers, or selling to new clients in new markets, or both.

Jobs that involve creative thinking are hard to automate; it’s difficult to imagine a computer taking the roles of artists, scientists and entrepreneurs. The same applies to highly unpredictable tasks, such as plumbers called to deal with emergencies in various locations.


A new, agile workforce 

However, for many people the nature of work will change, with big business finding it increasingly difficult to keep up. This new, digitally enabled world is teeming with small entrepreneurial companies and self-employed individuals finding work on digital platforms. In its Workforce of the Future report, PwC envisages a scenario where “digital platforms match worker with employer, skills with demand, capital with innovator, and consumer with supplier. This allows serial entrepreneurs to reach far beyond their size in terms of influence and scale." 

Larger employers “will fragment to create their own internal markets and networks to cut through old-style hierarchies and encourage and reward workers to come up with new ideas”, it adds. Workers will be more flexible and agile, moving from project to project, and location to location. 

The lack of reliance on expensive infrastructure and increased rate of innovation has given budding entrepreneurs a sense of freedom and optimism, enabling them to scale their enterprises quickly and speed up job creation in emerging fields.