THE FUTURE OF WORK IS a sTORY THAT WILL DEFINE THE 21ST CENTURY.
According to an Oxford University study published in 2013, nearly half of the tasks that are performed in today's jobs are at risk of being replaced by technology within the next 20 years. Four years later that astounding figure seems all too real.
The threat that driverless vehicles pose to the 3.5 million truck drivers in the US – which includes 1.7 million long haul operators – is well understood, but automation will affect every part of the labor market.
“We are at an inflection point where we have the opportunity to be able to channel a tremendous amount of energy into changing the calculus of what may be one of the biggest changes in our economy,” says Gary Bolles, who advises on disruptive innovation trends as a partner at the San Francisco-based consultancy Charette. As co-founder of eParachute, an online career service based on the work of his father, Richard N. Bolles (What Color is Your Parachute?), he has a unique and deep perspective on issues relating to work. According to Bolles, changes in the labor market due to automation will be “even bigger and more disruptive than the shift from an agricultural to an industrial society.”
The future of work is a story that will define the 21st century. Yet despite wide-ranging implications, the narratives of dislocation have been focused on jobs that are never coming back, such as coal mining. Those narratives are narrow in scope—focused on an industry that at its height employed no more than 863,000 people—but they capture an essential truth: Turbulence has replaced the traditional American story of steady financial progress over a lifetime.
This change has profound consequences says Chris Gebhardt, founder of Stir, Strategy and Story, a consultancy that leverages storytelling for social impact. "Deaths of despair" among middle-aged white Americans without college degrees have been rising for nearly a decade due to the loss of steady, well-paying jobs to automation and globalization, according researchers at Princeton University. It mirrors what has long been a tragic reality in impoverished inner-city neighborhoods, where the lack of opportunity sparks a downward spiral of social dysfunction, depression, substance abuse and death.
To reverse this trend, misleading and politically-driven rhetoric, such as President Trump’s promises to bring back coal-mining jobs, must stop.
Instead, working through both private and public sector channels, a set of "conditions" must be established that are designed to help people not just survive, but actually thrive through the turmoil of an economy in disruption. For example, one condition could be the overhaul of the K-12 educational system to better prepare students for the jobs of tomorrow, rather than the jobs of today. To succeed, these students must become lifelong learners, able to "re-skill" in order to meet the demands—and opportunities—of a labor market where transition has become a constant.
by Rachelle Hampton, Medill School of Journalism
Founder, Stir Strategy & Story
former EVP, Participant Media