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Sunday
Jun252017

The future of jobs

LAST week, I wrote about products that will disappear in the near future. But it’s not just gadgets and equipment that technology will render obsolete. Some types of jobs will go the way of the Dodo bird too.

The most obvious vulnerable jobs are those involving manual labour.

For decades already, factories are being automated and this will only gather pace going forward until one day much of the factory floor will be occupied by robots, with only a few human supervisors.

Agriculture is another industry where automation has been having a big impact for decades and with each passing year, more and more farming work is getting done by machines.

The writing’s been on the wall for manufacturing and agriculture for a long time already.

A relatively new development however, is e-commerce.

Initially, people in Malaysia were wary of using their credit cards online but AirAsia (where tickets can only be bought online) and Lazada (our local answer to Amazon) have made online transactions mainstream.

Today, many people love to buy things online. There’s more variety, prices are usually cheaper and delivery is often free. What’s there not to like?

As more and more people shop online, the need for retail workers will naturally diminish. In any event, cashiers can very easily be replaced with machines that handle credit cards and cash. Some eating places in Singapore have already started experimenting with that.

Something even more recent is the auto industry’s focus on self-driving cars.

Practically every major car maker has a self-driving car programme and even non-auto-industry tech companies like Google and Apple have an interest in this.

Self-driving cars are for real and they will populate the streets within a decade or so. Naturally, taxi, bus, truck and even Uber/Grab drivers will be affected as transportation become increasingly autonomous.

You would think something high-touch like teaching would be future proof but think again.

The Internet is a treasure trove of information and it has given rise to a new generation of autodidacts.

There was a time when the only way to specialise in a particular skill was to study under a teacher. Now, with e-learning, you can learn practically anything you want to.

There are numerous websites devoted to self-study but the best are Khan Academy, Lynda.com and Udemy.

Khan Academy is very academic in nature and is designed to help students learn math and science.

Lynda.com is an e-learning pioneer with lots of high-quality technical and business courses. Because its instructors are drawn from the industry, the focus is on practical knowledge rather than academic matters.

The last one, Udemy, has courses that span the whole gamut of topics. Like Lynda.com, it is not very academic either.

Services like these, which will only become more and more prevalent, will eat into the teaching profession.

In recent years, we have seen an increase in home-schooling. Usually these involve tutors or sending the children to tuition centres instead of schools.

One can easily imagine the tutors and tuition centres being replaced by sites like Khan Academy and probably some local start-ups that can offer e-learning modules for the more localised topics like history and civics classes.

Even in Malaysia, we are seeing e-learning taking hold in the corporate sector.

I recently spoke to a friend who is involved in the workshop/training industry.

According to her, business has become more challenging with many corporations turning to the likes of Udemy as a source of e-learning for their staff rather than spending money on workshops.

As you can see, many industries will be affected, and not just blue collar ones. Many types of office work will be eliminated in the future.

Of course, this will be somewhat offset by new types of jobs including many that we probably can’t imagine because the technology has arrived yet.

When I look back at my time at the university, nobody would have known what you meant if you talked about jobs like mobile app developer, social media marketer, big data analyst, augmented reality programmer or drone operator. Today, these are the hottest jobs around.

So it’s not that jobs will go away. They will just change and sometimes in ways that we can’t anticipate.

When it comes to future work, it’s not about survival of the fittest but survival of the most adaptable.

While it’s hard to predict with any kind of accuracy what kinds of jobs will be in demand in the future, there are a few best practices that will help to make your career more future proof.

1. Participate in the sharing economy

AirBnB has made it possible for anyone to offer their homes for daily rent. Previously, if you had property to rent out, there was really only one option, which was a long-term rental agreement with a tenant.

While this generates steady income, the rent is usually fairly low, perhaps enough to cover your monthly loan instalment. To make money from renting out an apartment or house, it’s much better to rent by the day. AirBnB has shown a whole legion of people that this is indeed very viable.

What AirBnB has done for homes could potentially be applied to all sorts of things. Imagine the possibilities.

Imagine applying the same principle with other things you own, like a car.

Tesla, the famous electric carmaker, has plans to let its customers rent out their vehicles to generate extra cash. And in the near future, when driverless cars are working well, you could even become an Uber driver without having to drive yourself. Just put the autonomous car to work on your behalf!

2. Engage in continuous learning

Even with new economy jobs, don’t expect to be able to secure a job for life. Those days are gone.

With the ways things are going, be prepared for a “gig” economy instead, where work is done by freelancers.

To stay relevant, you’ll need to constantly upgrade yourself. That means making full use of e-learning to constantly enhancing existing skills and acquiring new skills.

These days there are more e-learning options but to engage in continuous learning is not an easy thing. There’s an opportunity cost involved.

Most e-learning websites are commercial entities and thus cost money to use (Khan Academy is an exception).

To constantly learn new skills will require regular investment in learning modules.

Learning new things also takes time, which could potentially be used for doing work.

Putting aside time to learn something new literally means giving up an income-earning opportunity. But you must be willing to do that to stay current and relevant to the ever-changing job market.

3. Be entrepreneurially-minded

Even if you are not self-employed and prefer to work under the structure of a company, you will need to be more entrepreneurial.

It’s not enough just to be productive and efficient. You’ll have to be creative too. As the pace of change increases the more nimble, adaptable and innovative a company has to be.

To achieve that, companies will have to harness the collective entrepreneurial brainpower of its staff.

Another thing that workers don’t do so much of is networking.

For entrepreneurs, it’s absolutely crucial. It will be for workers too. Through networking you’ll get to know many people, which could lead to many new business and collaboration opportunities.

To stay relevant, you’ll have to continually burnish your network. Think of networking as an investment in yourself.

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