What will be the last job standing?
That’s a real question at a time when AI and automation technologies are disrupting or displacing entire fields.
A 2017 study from the McKinsey Global Institute suggested that by 2030 as many as 375 million workers will need to switch occupational categories. The study said too that about half of all work activities have the technical potential to be automated.
Overall, how many workers will need to adapt “as their occupations evolve alongside increasingly capable machines”? All of them, answered McKinsey.
To figure out what’s flourishing and what might become extinct, we should be thinking of skills, not jobs. By that measure, the abilities that communicators possess retain high value.
Consider how schools look at it. They’re the ones preparing today’s youth for tomorrow’s highly uncertain workplaces. And what are they pushing? Educators talk about six 21st century skills. One is communication, meaning mastery of three fluencies: digital, writing and speaking.
The other five skills are character, citizenship, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking, and they, too, draw on communication aptitudes. Like the ability to share knowledge, ask the right questions, express ideas and arrive at consensus.
An RBC study from 2018 also looked at what’s in demand. The study analyzed 300 occupations, 2.4 million expected job openings and 20,000 skills rankings. This research didn’t look at jobs so much, but at transferable skills. Sort of a roadmap for the next generation.
Certain jobs might appear unrelated, but many of the key underlying competencies are the same. Among them are the soft communication skills. In fact, two of the hottest skills, the RBC report said, are listening and judgment.
RBC talks about the Skills Economy. Others refer to the Knowledge Economy. But what if it’s neither?
A new study from the University of Maryland, based on labour data, makes the case for what it calls the Feeling Economy. It’s another sign that people who excel at communications will have an edge.
Marketing professor Roland Rust notes that AI has already replaced many physical tasks (just as early machines of the Industrial Revolution replaced much manual labour). Is the ability to analyze and solve problems the key to success in the future? Not quite, says Rust.
While some people believe those will be the go-to skills, Rust says that AI is already taking over some tasks that involve processing and interpreting information. The pace is only increasing.
“If humans want jobs, they better get good at feeling,” Rust says. “Things like interpersonal relationships and emotional intelligence will be much more important. We’re already seeing the shift…not only in terms of employment but in terms of compensation. There is greater compensation growth in feeling than there is in thinking.”
This need can play out in all types of jobs. Rust gave the example of a financial advisor. AI tools can crunch numbers, make recommendations and execute moves. So what’s left? Rust says that while machines can do the analyses, it takes people to hold clients’ hands and reassure them.
At least for now. Rust suspects that AI, eventually, will also be able to handle feelings.
It’s already happening. One offshoot of AI is AE – artificial empathy. In fact, a Microsoft blog this summer envisions one of the new occupations of the future as empathologist, teaching these skills to AI. So, good news, that’s at least one job.
With the right algorithms and machine learning, AI will be able to detect and respond to human emotions. That fake empathy should come in handy when our robot overlords have to let the rest of us go.
Stuart Foxman is a Toronto-based freelance writer, who helps clients’ products, services, ideas and organizations to come alive. Follow me on Twitter @StuartFoxman, connect with me here on LinkedIn, or check me out at foxmancommunications.com. I would love to hear from you. More articles like this coming, with original posts every week about communications, information, motivation, writing, branding, creativity, media, marketing, persuasion, messages, learning, etc.
October 16, 2019