The Future of work


As a father of 2 young children, I worry about how to prepare my children for the future of work. What will their careers look like? And am I preparing them the right way?

Amid the Pandemic, I look at hard-hit industries and imagine how different my career would be, had I been in one of those industries. Like being a pilot, at age 40, with years of experience — living the high life in 2019, and looking desperately for a job in 2021.

When that pilot was going to flying school, they never considered a world where 60% of air travel would be restricted, and the demand for their niche skills would dwindle so quickly — rendering them an ‘over-supply’ in a under-demand market.

It’s one thing to work for a single company that loses 60% revenue, it’s another when the entire industry takes a 60% hit — the effect that has on your employability is un-fixable, particularly if you’re skills are only applicable for that niche industry (e.g. Piloting skills in the aviation industry).

So I wonder, is there a ‘black swan’ event that might occur, and render my skills obsolete? Could anything cause a 60% reduction in the demand for IT Architects?

The answer is ABSOLUTELY YES!!

Given enough time and enough change, any job (no matter how safe they appear today) can be ‘disrupted’.

And because people are retiring later in life (more time) and technology is accelerating (more change) — the likelihood that sometime in my career, my skills become obsolete inches from ‘probably’ to ‘certainly’ with every passing year.

Even worse then for university graduates who are just starting their careers now. My guesstimate is that the average graduate in 2021, will have a career that spans at least 50 years. People are living longer, marrying later, having children later, funding their children’s education for longer periods — the general trend will be progressively later retirement ages for everyone.

15 years ago, when I was in University, you couldn’t write a program to differentiate a dog from a cat even if you had all the computing power in the world. It was just not possible with the technology we had.

Today, this is an introduction program written by students taking a 2-week boot camp in machine learning. It’ll take no more than a 2 hours on a regular computer to create a program — that a decade ago was all but impossible even with all the computers in the world.

This was not a linear progression, it a punctuated (and exponential) change from before.

This exponential changes are occurring more frequently, and it will mean that difference between 2070 (when graduates from today will retire) and 2021 (today) is going to be akin to the difference between 2020 and 1850. It’s a absolute guaranteed certainty that the career you started with, is not the one you will retire in. Along the way, you will either choose (or be forced into) a dramatic career change — and the sooner we realize that, the better our careers will be.

In my opinion the only way to protect yourself against being ‘disrupted’ is to develop the skill of learning — if you can learn new skills quickly, you can be in demand for as long as you like. After all, as more change occurs, the more new jobs those changes will create.

New skills that can be only be acquired by first movers with the cognitive ability to learn them, and the risk appetite to try. As long as you have these two things, I think you’ll be able to ride out most disruptions (probably not all). There’s no way, anyone can predict what will happen in the next 10 years, let alone the 50, the timeline is too long to make any prediction, other than the obvious — CHANGE is coming! Most of the skills you’ve learnt over the last decade are obsolete…get over it!

There is one caveat, for the small sub-fraction of people who are hyper-motivated individuals with exceptional skill. These laser focused individuals are driven for success and endowed with the cognitive (or physical) gifts to excel in their fields. These folks will always be free from disruption, as there’s always room for the top players in any industry, the top 1% of the 1%. Cristiano Ronaldo will always have a team to play football at, Banksy will always be able to sell their art, and Warren Buffet will always be able to out-invest any algorithm.

For the rest of us though, the 99.99% of the population, being able to learn and adapt is the only way we avoid obsolescence.

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