The Future of Work: What do you absolutely need to know?

Nearly half of all jobs in the United States could be eliminated by technology within the next 20 years, according to an Oxford University study. Major changes are coming to the American workforce – and they’re coming fast.

If you’re like most Americans, there’s a very good chance those changes are already affecting your family or could do so in the very near future.

Whether you are an employer or employee, parent or child, teacher or student – you should find out more about the looming threat to jobs and what it means for you and yours.

The American workforce – indeed, the entire economy of our country – is unprepared for this dramatic loss of jobs.

“More than any other sector, innovation has the power to reshape the economic fates of entire communities, as well as their cultures,”

― Enrico Moretti, The New Geography of Jobs

“This is something that we call an urgent future, something that really requires focused attention”

― Dylan Hendricks, Futurist. Institute For The Future

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But I hear politicians and the media report unemployment numbers have dropped?

The official jobs report can be misleading because they only show a small piece of the picture. They leave out a large and growing number of Americans whose work status isn’t counted. Americans need to understand the difference between unemployed and underemployed.

Here’s the deal: There are currently around 8 million unemployed people in the United States, and about a quarter of those people have been out of a job for at least six months. However, there are many, many more who want to work, but can’t find a job and have stopped looking for one. They aren’t counted in that number. Now add the nearly 6 million under-employed workers forced to take a job below their skill level or work part-time to make ends meet.

When you add all of those together, you get a fuller picture of what is happening in our workforce. It is believed that more than 15 million Americans can’t find the jobs they want or need. That’s roughly as many people as the population of Los Angeles.

“One of the most fundamental ideas woven into the American ethos – the belief that anyone can get ahead through hard work and perseverance – really has little basis in statistical reality.”

― Martin Ford, Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future

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What is the employability gap, and why should I care about it?

There are 5.5 million unfilled jobs in the country, and many CEOs say they can’t find workers who have the skills they need. How is that possible?

The employability gap is a fancy term for a simple concept: There’s a gap between the skills employers require from their workers, both now and in the future, and the skills Americans actually have.

The equation is not pretty. There are open jobs, but our current education system hasn’t kept up with the rapidly changing skills needed as technology plays a larger role in jobs of all kinds. Jobs don’t get outsourced just because it’s cheaper for companies. In some fields, there are simply more applicants with the necessary skill sets in other areas of the world.

The bottom line: Neither the American education system nor on-the-job training is adequately preparing Americans for the kind of work that will be available in the future.

The simple truth is that the future of work and employment is changing – faster than we ever could have predicted – and we are not ready.

“What is scary in the current presidential election is…. once you get past the ugly stuff, it is about jobs. And in a modern 21st Century economy: jobs; keeping jobs, getting jobs. Getting the next job is about skill development.”

– Anthony Carnevale, Director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce

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Will going to college guarantee me a job?

Not necessarily. A four-year degree has risks and benefits, with student loan debt rising over the last decade and many college graduates finding it difficult to get work in their chosen fields after graduation.

Still, college seems to improve your chances of financial security – starting with finding a job. Unemployment rates for people with only a high-school diploma are more than double the rates for people with a bachelor’s degree.

Many people will take advantage of vocational training, community college or apprenticeships, some of which are more focused on the specific skills needed by employers to fill the job openings available in this country. What is clear is that to be successful, everyone will need to engage in “lifelong learning,” to continue adapting to the rapidly changing workplace.

“We live in an economy where 60% of the jobs require some formal education or training after high school. That is a sea change. That’s an economic revolution.”

– Anthony Carnevale, Director of the Georgetown University Center of Education and the Workforce

“…education has shifted from skill set to being academic. What I think you’re seeing at community colleges across the country is a retooling to recognize the reality of the job demands that exist.”

– Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ)

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Why should U.S. companies care about whether people will be able to find jobs in 20 years?

Here’s a reason: a healthy middle class fuels a thriving economy. If American workers can’t find jobs, they’ll have to spend less. In other words, fewer and fewer people are going to spring for a $3 cup of coffee, never mind a new car or a house. Eventually, businesses will feel the effects of Americans’ increasingly precarious finances.

Nearly half of the country will be affected directly. The rest of us will suffer from the terrible consequences of a devastated U.S. economy.

“Corporations can and should play a significant role in preparing our workforce for a dramatically changing jobs market. They have the greatest visibility as to how the jobs within their own organizations and industries have been changing in recent years and will continue to in the next 5 to 10 years. They also have a lot at stake. If we end up with a mismatch of available employees and required skills, corporations will not be able to advance their own businesses on an economic basis.”

– Art Bilger, WorkingNation Founder & CEO

“Essentially what you have is companies that are saying ‘look I’m not going to be able to meet my business and growth targets unless I can have these people’ and they work with education institutions to be able to produce them.”

– Mona Mourshed, Director of Global Education Practice at McKinsey & Company

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Will a robot really take my job?

We might as well toss a coin to answer that question, as there’s about a 50-50 chance you could eventually be replaced by a robot. A study from Oxford University predicts that 47 percent of jobs are at high risk of being taken over by a machine over the next few decades.

We all know many jobs are being automated, from manufacturing assembly line tasks that are repetitive in nature to kiosks for banking and other transactions that are replacing humans at a staggering rate.

In the future, it won’t just be factory workers and unskilled laborers who lose their jobs. Technology is eliminating jobs – or showing the potential to eliminate jobs – even in some of the most highly-skilled positions in white-collar industries.

Do you work in finance?

Computer software is beginning to do the kinds of analysis that highly paid Wall Street financial analysts used to do.

Did you graduate law school and land a job in a major law firm?

Software systems with advanced wording analysis are now pouring over millions of documents as part of the discovery process for large lawsuits. The technology is already eliminating countless hours of work normally carried out by associates and paralegals, earning close to or more than $100,000 a year.

Did you spend four-years after college earning a Doctor of Pharmacy?

Computers don’t need an advanced degree, and they might already be able to do your job better. Robotics-controlled pharmacies are currently in operation at two hospitals in California and so far have prepared 350,000 doses of medication without error.

Even the work of scientists is in jeopardy. Computerized machinery equipped with automated systems and artificial intelligence can now not only perform experiments, but also interpret the results, plan further experiments, and make discoveries all their own.

“In the world we are living in we are going to see more things that look like science fiction and less things that look like jobs.”

– Andrew McAfee, Author of Second Machine

“Many of the jobs that we think of as absolutely commonplace today are going to be wiped out.”

-Mark Pesce, Futurist

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Are there any robot-proof jobs?

Jobs that require social intelligence – particularly those that involve caring for people or persuading others to do something or buy something – are relatively safe from automation. Recognizing and responding appropriately to human emotions is something current technology still can’t do, and that’s why you won’t be able to manufacture nannies for your children in an overseas factory for many years to come.

Home health care will be a particularly strong growth industry in the coming decades, and with all of the new technologies, will have many job opportunities. As the population ages, the United States will need more healthcare workers that specialize in different medical issues. Maybe someday, robots will help take care of elderly people with Alzheimer’s, but we’re not there yet.

Creativity is another area in which robots can’t yet match humans. It’s easy to imagine a world where a computer can be programmed to paint a portrait in a particular style, but it’s harder to imagine a robot inventing Cubism or Impressionism – to imagine inspired computers. Machines also can’t make good jokes. As silly as that may sound, humor writers and stand-up comedians are a poignant reminder that there are still some uniquely human things computers have trouble grasping. And that’s why work in creative fields may be more immune to automation than others.

“We need people to educate our children, to look after our old people, and to provide for the mental needs, which–realistically are probably going to become a bigger need going forward, as there’s more people in the population.”

– Dylan Hendricks, Institute For The Future

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The employability gap is only a problem for young people, right?

Absolutely not. It affects everybody, from those just entering the workforce to those approaching retirement – including the enormous Baby Boomer generation, who grew up hearing about the American Dream. Unfortunately, they will likely now have to stay in the workforce longer. Nearly one in three Americans (29 percent) have no retirement savings at all and won’t receive a monthly pension when they retire.

Even those who have saved for retirement may simply want to keep working – but they may have a hard time doing so. Boomers’ skills are not necessarily keeping pace with the fast-changing technology landscape, and that makes them less employable at a time when they need to work the most.

“I think it is our responsibility to help people understand how to stay relevant, how to stay in work, how to continue to– earn income — to take care of themselves and the next generation.”

– Debra Plousha Moore, EVP and Chief Human Resources Officer Carolinas HealthCare System

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How can I avoid falling into the employability gap?

We must all get educated about what is really happening – and commit to becoming a lifelong learner.

People need to take control of their careers, making sure they have the right skills for today’s marketplace as well as the future. Workers should refresh their skills throughout the course of their careers to ensure they are still relevant to the labor force. And companies that want to succeed will partner with organizations to create those training opportunities for their employees.

By looking at historical patterns and identifying signals of change around us today, we can better prepare for the transformations occurring in both work and learning.

– Marina Gorbis, Executive Director Institute For The Future

We have to work together from the grassroots to the boardroom…. check our egos at the door, and say this is an issue that affects all of us

– Jimmie Briggs, Director Encore4Youth

One of the most important skills any entrepreneur should learn is to program a computer. This is a critical skill if you want to start a tech startup, but a basic knowledge of code is useful even in traditional fields, because software is changing everything.

– Reid Hoffman, Executive Chairman & Co-founder, LinkedIn

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