Will Your Well-Paying Job (And Your Kids’) Soon Be Obsolete?
By Shlomo Maital
Slide Rule: Will Your Skill Soon Be As Obsolete?
One test of a futuristic prediction is to spot in several independent sources. After my previous blog on how we’re failing to teach our kids the right 10 skills – The Economist has a lead editorial on how technology will affect our future jobs. (See the Jan. 18 edition).
According to the Economist: “ Innovation, the elixir of progress, has always cost people their jobs. In the Industrial Revolution artisan weavers were swept aside by the mechanical loom. Over the past 30 years the digital revolution has displaced many of the mid-skill jobs that underpinned 20th-century middle-class life. Typists, ticket agents, bank tellers and many production-line jobs have been dispensed with, just as the weavers were.”
“Why be worried? It is partly just a matter of history repeating itself. In the early part of the Industrial Revolution the rewards of increasing productivity went disproportionately to capital; later on, labour reaped most of the benefits. The pattern today is similar. The prosperity unleashed by the digital revolution has gone overwhelmingly to the owners of capital and the highest-skilled workers. Over the past three decades, labour’s share of output has shrunk globally from 64% to 59%. Meanwhile, the share of income going to the top 1% in America has risen from around 9% in the 1970s to 22% today. Unemployment is at alarming levels in much of the rich world, and not just for cyclical reasons. In 2000, 65% of working-age Americans were in work; since then the proportion has fallen, during good years as well as bad, to the current level of 59%.”
What should be done? What can be done? “Innovation has brought great benefits to humanity. Nobody in their right mind would want to return to the world of handloom weavers. But the benefits of technological progress are unevenly distributed, especially in the early stages of each new wave, and it is up to governments to spread them. In the 19th century it took the threat of revolution to bring about progressive reforms. Today’s governments would do well to start making the changes needed before their people get angry.”
It will take a long time for people to get angry…and by the time that happens, society will be in deep trouble.
But individuals can act. Ask yourself, what is your main skill? Could it be made obsolete (like the skill of middle level managers who once processed data, now available on the screen of senior managers instantly) by technology? If so, how? When? Can you develop a new skill? Should you start now?
And get your kids to ask the same questions. That nice fat paycheck of today could be a green slip tomorrow. Prepare yourself and your loved ones. Remember the slide rule.