I often think about the kind of economy the United States and other first world countries will boast in 20 to 30 years from now. We have seen the departure of thousands of manufacturing jobs from the US and the decline of the middle class. Globalization and technology have shifted the US economy from manufacturing to a service economy. According to an article in the Business Insider by Doug Short, the accelerated growth in service industry employment started in the 1960’s, but it really went into high gear after the 1980’s recession. Manufacturing employment on the other hand never recovered. What is more, even the service industry employment seems to be stagnated since the 2008 Great Recession. What will the average Joe’s job be? We need to start creating the jobs of tomorrow to build the society of tomorrow and a sustainable economy.
We know we cannot all be doctors, nurses or work for the government. We also must be prepared for the fact that many service industry jobs may soon disappear due to the impact created by automation and robotics. From self-service check outs in grocery stores, to self-service machines in fast-food restaurants, and even ATMs, we know the trend is there for an economy in which low skilled workers will be needed less and less. Does that mean robots will replace humans? Hardly, it just means that low level employment will require a higher level of education and skills than before. There will be no human pulling a lever to punch a widget, but there will be a human designing, building, programming and servicing the machines that punch the widgets. We will also need the engineers and technicians that will plan, build and maintain the cities we live in, the cars we travel in and the gadgets and machines we will use on our daily lives.
In April of 2014, Bill Gates said that “software substitution, whether it’s for drivers or waiters or nurses, it’s progressing. Technology over time will reduce demand for jobs, particularly at the lower end of skill sets. Twenty years from now, labor demand for lots of skill sets will be substantially lower”. While this point of view may seem gloomy it is also a call for action. A pragmatist’s way of telling us that we need to think outside the box and stop resisting change. Technology is not the enemy, and it has opened many other opportunities we did not have before. The difficult thing here is that it is hard to predict what jobs will be created by new technology, thus it is easier to take the pessimists view of only looking at the jobs that are going away with that technology. Therefore, we must prepare ourselves and become part of that change, embracing new technology, learning to use it for our advantage and improving the way we do things today. Many times, new technology does not mean the disappearance of a job, but the improvement and enrichment of it. I highly doubt that a machine will ever replace a nurse or a doctor, regardless of what Bill Gates says, but it will certainly help them make better decisions and be more efficient at their jobs.
No advancement in technology happens without human intervention or the desire for improvement. Therefore, these advancements and the impact on our economy would not be procured without a human dreaming, planning and executing on them. The field of science, technology, engineering and math are at the forefront of this movement and none of this will happen without a strong and skilled workforce behind it. The scientists, the programmers, the engineers and mathematicians of today are thinking and dreaming of the possibilities for tomorrow. The question is, will the United States be at the forefront or the tail end of this movement? Are we fostering innovation and progress? Is our education system laying a foundation for our children to fill the jobs that will be created because of technological advancement?
We are faced with big problems we must tackle and solving those issues will most likely be the main source of future employment for us and our children. A focus on green jobs, sustainability and reduction of carbon emissions, etc. is already generating employment in many industries. For the first time in its history, the number of solar industry jobs surpassed the number of oil industry jobs in 2015 and as of March of 2016 there were 2.5 million jobs in clean energy alone. In addition to clean energy, the advent of smart homes and buildings will most likely impact the employment outlook in the future. We are no longer content with having a refrigerator that keeps food cold and fresh longer, we want the refrigerator to know when we have run out of milk and possibly order it from the store in the future.
A future in which the lowest skilled worker must know how to code or program a machine is not far off. It is important then to ensure we have the educational system and the infrastructure in place to ensure we have highly trained and skilled workers to handle these complex and sophisticated machines. We need to nurture and develop the minds that will ensure we have a way to power our homes or travel without polluting the air. To produce and farm goods without polluting our water sources. To plan, design and build the infrastructure and the cities of tomorrow. To think of and create a better world than the one we left for them. Future generations are counting on us to lay the foundation for them to live up to the promise of that tomorrow.
Lucas, S. (2014, Apr 02). Bill Gates on the Future of Employment (It’s Not Pretty). Retrieved from https://www.inc.com/suzanne-lucas/bill-gates-on-the-future-of-employment.html: https://www.inc.com/suzanne-lucas/bill-gates-on-the-future-of-employment.html
Short, D. (2011, Sep 05). Charting The Incredible Shift From Manufacturing To Services In America. Retrieved from Business Insider: http://www.businessinsider.com/charting-the-incredible-shift-from-manufacturing-to-services-in-america-2011-9
Tiede, R. (2016, Nov 14). Create 5 Million Green Jobs. Retrieved from Politifact.com/Truth-o-meter: http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/promises/obameter/promise/439/create-5-million-green-jobs/
Viswanathan, B. (2014, May 14). What Are The $10+ Billion Big Industries Of The Future? Retrieved from Forbes.com: https://www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2014/05/14/what-are-the-10-billion-big-industries-of-the-future/#60bc74d5d1d3